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  Review: Tenchu - Return from Darkness
On 05/08/04 by James 'Sweetjimmy' Long

Developer: K2
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: March 9, 2004
ESRB: Mature
Official Site:
Platform: Xbox

A wise man once told me only 3 things in life are certain: death, taxes, and the coolness of ninjas. I was about to agree with him when a short dude clad in a black mask swooped down and gutted the old fart from behind before disappearing into a cloud of smoke. �Cool indeed,� I mused.
:: tenchu: return from darkness ::

:: tenchu: return from darkness ::

:: tenchu: return from darkness ::
Such is the way of Tenchu, which is Japanese for�I don�t know. This ninja simulator is finally available on the Xbox and we Microsoft fanboys now get a taste of a game that Sony followers once touted upon. Unfortunately, compared to Ninja Gaiden, Tenchu will feel a little bland on your pallet.

Tenchu: Return from Darkness (RfD) is essentially the same game as Tenchu 2: Wrath of Heaven, which has been available on the Playstation 2 for the last year. There have been a few minor additions to the Xbox port such as more levels and an added cooperative multiplayer mode, but for the most part there�s nothing here to warrant a purchase if you�ve already beaten the Playstation 2 version. RfD differs greatly from the other Xbox ninja game. Instead of focusing on action and combat, RfD instead rewards stealth and quiet kills. The premise behind RfD is actually teaming with potential. Who wouldn�t love a Splinter Cell set in Feudal Japan? Unfortunately, the execution of RfD is terribly botched by a zany story line, some impossible camera problems, and a tragically flawed control scheme.

:: tenchu: return from darkness ::

:: tenchu: return from darkness ::

:: tenchu: return from darkness ::
The stealth kill portion of RfD can be fulfilling and very enjoyable, so long as you don�t let the camera system get on your nerves. When you first start out you are able to choose from two ninja, both of which have their own storyline to follow. As you progress through the levels, you�ll come across patrolling enemies that bar your path. If you can sneak up behind them and hit your attack button, your ninja will execute an impressive killing maneuver and the guard will be done away with. However, if the guard spots you, he�ll whistle to his friends and give chase until you either turn and fight him or step around a corner. For some reason, if these guards cannot see you they forget that you were ever there. In short, the artificial intelligence in this game is about as threatening as a post-cold war Soviet Union.

If you happen to get in a fair fight with one of the guards, you�ll thereafter bear witness to one of the worst fighting control schemes ever conceived. First off, you have to hold one trigger button to lock onto the enemy. Secondly, you have to hold the other trigger button in addition to the jump button if you want to roll around to evade. Blocking is pretty slow and if you get hit from one attack in a series of combination moves, you�ll not be able to bring up your guard in time to protect yourself from the rest of the attack. The irritating thing is if you miss one block, you could potentially lose a third of your life to one dumb guard. There�s another method of evading by just using the lock button and the jump button in coordination, but it doesn�t seem to move your character far enough to get him out of trouble. Moving your ninja around during combat sequences also feels clunky. A ninja�s movements should be swift and smooth, but instead, positioning your masked killer almost feels as precise as maneuvering the bomber in Battlefield 1942. The camera easily gets pointed in the wrong direction and between evading, blocking, attacking, and locking on, you�ll soon feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the entire system.

While playing, you�ll come across special items that make the game quite a bit easier. Throwing stars come in handy for dispatching guard dogs. You can also get smoke bombs, caltrops, exploding stars, and other goodies all to aid you in your quest to sneak up behind people and decapitate them. You can start out by choosing between a boy ninja and a girl ninja and each character�s story progresses in tandem to the other ninja�s story. Also, there is a third, unlockable character for added replay value. As I said before, the storyline is zany. The boss characters you come across will most likely annoy you while the plot progression inspires more than a few head scratches.

The multiplayer aspect adds a great deal of value to RfD, especially since you can go on Xbox Live whenever you want and look for someone to play with in the cooperative mode. Developers finally seem to be learning that gamers want cooperative modes, and RfD is proof of that. This title definitely has the best cooperative Live implementation since Rainbow Six 3 and offers different scenarios just for the two player mode where you�ll have to rely on cooperation to make it through.

RfD has three big strikes against it graphically speaking. First off, it�s a PS2 port. Secondly, it�s a year old. Lastly, it came out side by side with Ninja Gaiden, and hence, was doomed before it hit the floor. As far as animations go, RfD looks quite good. The main characters are also nicely stylized. However, the color scheme of the game is depressingly bland in comparison to your standard 1st party Xbox games. Also, the models are blocky and the maps feel rather dull if you�ve been playing Ninja Gaiden for the previous month. It�s just depressing to see a developer not take advantage of what the Xbox can do. I sometimes find it discouraging to see a game as plain looking as Tenchu when Tecmo has shown us what is possible on Microsoft�s black box. The levels of RfD are good sized at least and offer lots of places for you to ambush your query as well as multiple paths to finish each board.

The music of RfD is actually pretty good. Much of the audio is lost in a quagmire of frustration brought on by attempting to make your ninja dodge and land attacks, but when you do notice the music you�ll probably appreciate it as a modern sound intermingled with traditional Eastern sensibilities. As for sound effects go, K2 did an excellent job bringing the fighting sounds from Manga-style animated motion pictures to the console. Many of the combat sound effects reminded me of movies such as Ninja Scroll. The clanging of steel on steel and the �whooshing� of ninjas jumping quickly through the air were two of my favorites.

In a Word: Frustrating

Word to the Publisher: Keep pushing for Cooperative modes in console games. Playing side by side over Xbox Live is definitely one of Tenchu�s stronger suits.

Final Score: 7.0/10
#1 - dougman - 05/09/04 @ 10:41 AM EST
I played this game.
I agree the fighting system is lame as hell. And your running speed is SO DAMN SLOW.
Sometimes it is near impossible to sneak up on someone before he turns around because you are so damn slow. It seems like the guards run faster than you.
Your attack range is pitiful, especially with the girl.
If you play split screen in this game, the graphics drop to crap mode. If you thought cameras are bad in the regular game, you have to see split screen. In some levels all you will see is blank wall after wall while the enemy is kicking your ass while you try to figure out where the hell you can run (grapple) to.

#2 - Anon@ - 05/09/04 @ 02:08 PM EST

#3 - sweetjimmy - 05/10/04 @ 12:04 PM EST
It was very rough around the edges, but I could see a diehard ninja fan getting into it. You haven't seen horrible until you've loaded up that Capri game I reviewed a while back.
#4 - Anon@ - 05/10/04 @ 12:56 PM EST
I think the 1st one had a better color scheme, seriousla X.X
#5 - Kensomniac - 06/14/04 @ 08:04 PM EST
I had alot of fun with the game myself.

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