Tenchu: Stealth Assassins

a game by Activision
Platform: PSX
Rating: 7/10
See also: Ninja Games


Do you remember, as well as I do, dressing up as a ninja for Halloween? The chance to sneak around and blend into shadows? The upset stomach from too much candy? Where the hell am I going with this, anyway? Oh yes, enter Tenchu: Stealth Assassins from Activision, the mystical realm of Chinese dynasties, and hired assassins known as ninjas. The ninja code and technique is passed down through many generations into your hands, and you must "live by honor, and kill by stealth" if the tradition is to be passed on.

You are to become one of two ninjas under the guidance and power of Master Gohda. Rikimaru is a leader of the Azuma [[Shinobi]]-Ryu ninja sect, and is graced with the swiftness you need as a ninja. Ayame is a young female ninja armed with two swords and a beautiful combo attack that will leave your enemies searching for blood donors. This is the tale of two shadows of justice born unto darkness and destined to die in darkness.... well, maybe.


Let's first of all give it up for Activision for not only making an espionage game, but for making it enjoyable for almost anyone. The patience for the right moment of attack is absolutely outstanding. In most games you go all-out shooting, slicing, and killing everything in sight, but Tenchu turns killing into an art form. This coming from a reviewer that is not into fatalities from Mortal Kombat, or blood-spewing zombies from Resident Evil. Tenchu provides a third-person perspective of what it must have been like to be an assassin before the invention of any guns, and making do with an oversized Ginsu knife and an arsenal of ninja tricks and weapons.

Forget about the side-scrolling past ninja wannabes, and get ready for some arm-amputating, head-decapitating 3D action that will have you wanting a sequel. For starters, I would like to express the ease at which I picked up this game. Upon playing for the very first time, I pretty much was already a full-fledged warrior of darkness. I could control every slice, crouch, and wall-scale imaginable. I had a hard time imitating the double flip while running, but even that came easy with a couple of tries. Tenchu has a Practice Mode which allows entry ninjas to test their patience and the techniques that are clearly spelled out in the manual. The Practice Mode not only helps you sharpen your skills, but also grades you upon completion. The grades are as follows: Thug, Novice, Ninja, Master Ninja, and Grand Master. I have yet to obtain a Grand Master rating but feel you would have to be O.J. Simpson to achieve that. All jokes aside, the Practice Mode is a great tool in your growth into ninjahood (no pun intended).

A trained ninja has an array of weapons, but the game is lifelike and you can only carry so many items. Among these items are a grappling hook (which is not an option but a must), shuriken (Chinese star), Caltrops (multi-pronged spikes to deter followers), mines, grenades, and smoke bombs. Since on some levels there may be small animals that will give away your presence, Tenchu has an option to pick up poison rice. I also found that some of the guards in the game could have opted for a job in the Oval Office after a couple of them also ate the poison rice. While the standard equipment is more than enough to finish the game, you also have a chance to pick up some extra items if you complete a level with a high ninja rating.

Back then, there were no such electronic gadgets as infrared or binoculars, so the ninjas of long ago had to rely on what was referred to as their Ki. In layman's terms, the Ki was actually a supposed sixth sense that allowed them to detect danger and/or an oncoming enemy. The neat thing about the Ki meter is that it is displayed when you get near an enemy. The closer the enemy, the higher the meter reading, and you do not always have to see from your standpoint for the Ki meter to pick them up. Also, you have to worry about being seen by the opposition. Your Ki meter also registers with ?,; !!, !?, with ratings from "your presence has been detected but not pinpointed," right up to "you better get your butt in gear and hide." You will quickly understand how to read the Ki meter, and it will be very useful on your way to that Grand Master ninja rating.

Since this game has a third-person perspective, you have an excellent view of your ninja as you slice and dice your way through the 10 levels of action. Tenchu also allowed you to view from the eyes of your ninja by pressing and holding L1, which allowed full motion camera panning of your current position. When you spotted an enemy, your next objective was to sneak up behind them or wait until you had figured out their guarding procedures. This was the first game I have encountered that brought out the espionage factor in all of us. One complaint I had about Tenchu was the lack of different ways to kill an opponent. I mean you basically had the throat slash, and the decapitating throat slash, and if you're real lucky you get the finger-break into arm-break into neck-break combo. There are more than two ways to kill someone, especially if you are a trained ninja.

As a close to the gameplay section, I would have to say that I really enjoyed each and every level of Tenchu. The simplicity of the controller functions, along with a decent soundtrack, combine to make a great game for a low price. I also have to mention that the addiction and drive to complete a level without ever being seen is something that will keep me busy for a while.


Awesome, awesome, awesome; what more can I say? They did a great job on the fluid motion with semi-polygon characters. The action and intensity of the game keep you interested and involved in this movie-like game. They did have the occasional glitches as with any game, but for the most part they helped you. For instance an archer would run from me and sometimes get stuck in a wall while I made chop suey out of his body. All in all, the graphics were good enough to say, "Hey, these graphics look pretty damn good!"

Bottom Line

I for one am proud to say I own this game, and would recommend it to anyone above the age of 14, due to the graphic nature of death (and the blood art you can paint on the wall with your victim's blood). It is a fast-paced game, but you really have to time your kills and sometimes even have to pass up some for the perfect level. It is a great game for the price, and I'm sure will make an exceptional stocking stuffer for the holidays.

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