Hello all! Last week’s game was a unique, fast-paced spin on card battling. Plus, it was really fun.
Today’s game has a more measured pace, and plenty of stealth. And ninjas. So many ninjas.
Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is 12 years old now, having hit the PS2 in 2003. Wrath of Heaven is the third installment in the Tenchu series, beginning with Stealth Assassins and Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins (variety was not Tenchu’s strong suit). I’m going with Wrath this week, because I couldn’t find my copy of the PS1 original, but also because the series peaked with this third entry. It’s the best in the series, in my opinion. I mean, after this game...well, we don’t really see Tenchu games anymore, do we? Although I wish we did. Oh, Fatal Shadows is pretty good, too. Underrated.
Anyway. See, unlike, say, Ninja Gaiden, or Shinobi, for example, Tenchu isn’t action-oriented. Tenchu could almost be considered a ninja-simulator. Almost. Most of your time spent in the game is in the shadows, or rooftops, studying enemy movement and waiting for the perfect time to strike. Just like on the box art up there, you’ll creep along walls and peer around corners, stealth-killing guards as you find them. You make use of ubiquitous ninja gear like a grappling hook, which is the most useful tool you have in the game, as well as shuriken, caltrops, etc. Some items are a bit more esoteric, like the Ninja Rebirth item that lets you come back to life.
Ayame is the superior character. This is fact.
Yes, Smart Internet People, I’m aware the “ninja” is more or less myth. No need to bring it up. But as far as that portrayal goes, as far as that idea of ninja we have in our heads goes, Tenchu nails it. The aforementioned Ninja Gaiden, especially the newer 3D trilogy, is fantastic, but it’s action packed. I never really feel like a ninja in those games; Ryu Hayabusa largely just charges into battle with reckless abandon.
Tenchu makes me feel like a ninja, stalking an enemy guard along a rooftop before jumping on him for the kill. Only to raise an alarm, because I neglected the cat on the street, who is now screeching at me uncontrollably.
There’s a plot here, as well, and it’s serviceable. Mostly feudal Japan intrigue which quickly gives way to ancient sorcery and what not. It largely depends on how into this stuff you are. Even by today’s standards, I found the voice acting okay. None of it is grating or anything, which is a big plus. Character development wise, the most attention is, of course, devoted to Rikimaru and Ayame, the two playable characters.
Booting up this game for the first time in years, I was pretty surprised by the amount of replay value. Rikimaru and Ayame have two separate yet similar plots that connect in a couple of places. They have 10 levels each, and the best part is, you can choose between three layouts for each level, changing enemy placement and stuff. Not to mention, there’s a third, unlockable playable character in the form of Tesshu, who’s awesome.
But Rikimaru is awesome, too. Here he is getting kicked by zombie-man Onikage.
I was also struck by how well the game holds up today. It’s a PS2 game from 2003, so of course, there’s some clunk. Or rather, a lot of clunk. But Ayame (she’s more fun to play) did what I needed her to do when I needed her to do it. There’s some camera issues, particularly with the ill-advised indoor levels, but the game controls fairly well. Not perfectly, but I was expecting much worse, considering the game’s age.
Tenchu is a riot because it’s really the only ninja game like this, as far as I can remember. (If you know any others, post them in the comments!) I found it to be still fun after all this time. It’s worth a look.
Thanks always for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, read more of my stuff at Current Digital! For example, here’s what I thought of Persona 4: Dancing All Night!
So, here’s my plan so far: I’m thinking of publishing the first year of these Game of the Week articles in an ebook that would sell for $5 OR pay-what-you-want. They would be slightly editied versions of the original articles (mostly the “Last Week” and “Next Week,” and the “Thanks for reading” bits. These would be accomppanied by additional insights on the games, as well as what I’ve learned about games writing by composing these articles every week for 2+ years. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
Next week-let’s stay in historical Japan, but we’ll trade ninja for samurai in this open-ended PS2 gem.