Reviewed on: Xbox 360
From Software's Xbox 360 exclusive Tenchu Z is a game that is stuck in the past. The game does try to take the series forward by having Rickimaru as the non-playable leader of the Azuma ninja and you create your own character, and by ditching the more fantastical elements of previous games to focus on a more 'realistic' story. The problem is that the game features mechanics, controls and design choices fit only for PS2 era Tenchu games. Does this make Tenchu Z a bad game though?
As I mentioned you create your ninja (male or female) and choose from a range of faces and outfits and are then given a series of missions by Rickimaru, who is now the leader of the Azuma ninjas. The character creator is far too limited for my tastes but it does the job. After a brief and simple but effective training mission you are sent out into the world to unravel a conspiracy aimed at plummeting your otherwise peaceful, feudal nation into war. Before each mission you can purchase/equip new items, abilities and outfits before speaking to Rickimaru and embarking on your mission. The missions themselves are one of the game's biggest flaws. There is nothing new here. Kill the merchant, collect some bombs, cross the bridge. The objectives are dull, the level design unimaginative, and there are lots of these missions (around 50) to force yourself through. The missions are displayed on a map of the country and are unlocked in groups so you can at least do them as you see fit. It's a small victory but a victory nonetheless.
The level design, guard placement, AI, combat and stealth are all as you remember them from the PS2 games. The problem is this makes everything seem hideously dated. The guard AI is terrible, they only see you if you hit them in face and insult their mother's, they hardly seem to notice the fact their friend just fell to the floor dead and if you disappear into the shadows they seem to forget about you entirely. This makes stealth extremely unsatisfying and almost totally pointless, you will still need it to get a good mission rating. This is a pretty big problem for a game about ninjas. The combat doesn't do any better because the moves are all standard and the controls are atrocious. Your character feels slow and unresponsive, his/her attacks seem weak and your running and jumping seem stupidly slow. The game controls about as well as an oak tree and the AI and level design only go to make this bad situation much much worse.
But the graphics and sound are amaz- oh wait no they're awful too. The soundtrack to previous Tenchu games (particularly Wrath of Heaven) were awesome, with good effects and a great theme tune, but sound has gone a long way since then and this game has not kept up. In fact it's not even as good sound wise as the older games. The effects have a slightly dull edge to them and the theme tune just lacks the punch that it used to have. The decision to have characters speak in Japanese was nice but its irritating that your character is apparently a mute for no good reason. Graphics wise the game looks like Wrath of heaven with a few HD textures. Not good.
Sadly this is a game not only stuck in the past but also stuck in the shadow of the series' former glory. The PSOne and PS2 Tenchu games were incredible and this is a sad stain on their memory. If the developers had moved with the times and made a game that wasn't seemingly designed in a Pre-360 generation mindset then this could have been good. It still has fun executions (hence it not being entirely bad) but poor level design, bad AI, clunky controls and dated graphics and sound effects keep this game from being one you should buy.