Ninjas are awesome, and this game certainly contains them. However, this alone isn’t enough to make the game worth buying. The game, known as Tenchu 4 in Japan, is the next instalment in the stealth/action series that dates back to the original PlayStation.
You control both Rikimaru and Ayame who attempt to restore peace blah blah, all set in 13th century Japan. The story is well presented through cutscenes which feature surprisingly well done voice acting. Well, except for the occasional cockney enemy guard, and the fact that they all spout the same three phrases when looking for you. Overall production values are quite high, which is unusual for a Wii game. Character models look good and animate well, though there is a distinct lack in variety of enemy models (the bad guys must be investing in a clone army), and the lead protagonists and enemies are fantastically designed. Music is also great, and really does a good job setting the mood. Unfortunately, as soon as you are placed in control of the ninja, cracks start to show.
The game itself is stealth-focused. As the subtitle suggests, you will be doing a lot of hiding in (and killing from) shadows. A pretty nifty moon icon indicates how concealed you are (via how obscured the moon is with clouds), as well as enemy locations (represented by stars around the moon). Each mission is broken up into stages where you must find your way past a series of guards (using violent means or otherwise), leading up to the final stage where you take out the mission’s target. You can use various items to assist, such as a bamboo water blowy thing (to extinguish flames or breathe underwater) or shuriken (pretty useless outside specific circumstances).
You control your ninja in a similar fashion to Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 4 – you move forward and turn around with the analogue stick, hold the Wiimote trigger to sprint, and tap C to jump. The A button is context sensitive and can be used to hide your ninja, pick up items and instigate stealth kills. Ultimately, these controls make you feel decidedly un-ninjaly. Your standard walking pace is extremely slow (running alerts guards), and trying to change direction and monitor your surrounds is extremely difficult and fiddly. Jumping is another nightmare. Since you can’t build up any forward momentum unless you’re running, trying to quietly jump over obstacles is nigh on impossible. A quick flick of the Wiimote lets you dash out of sight, or from places of concealment, however actually trying to reliably control the direction of the dash is frustratingly difficult at times. More often than not, if you take the time to aim it properly you’ll end up where you want, but there are times where, even when being careful, it will end up leaving you exposed. Stealth kills are instigated by catching an enemy unawares and pressing A. You then must enter a Wiimote/nunchuk gesture correctly to execute an instant kill. As is typical for these types of things on the Wii, just waggling in any direction typically works better than trying to mimic the onscreen prompt. However, there will still be times where the game simply won’t recognise your gesture (even if you replicate the motion perfectly), and you will be spotted.
Typically, getting spotted isn’t a big deal. You’ll vanish in a puff of ninja smoke and respawn at the start of the area, with all the guards you killed still dead. Now, I’m all for forgiving gameplay (especially in stealth games), but this kinda defeats the purpose and removes any tension – the only thing adversely affected will be the end of level ranking. Personally, I didn’t find it that much of a big deal, but fans of stealth games will probably hate it. However, the option to reset the level is there for any purists. If you get spotted and are in possession of a sword, you enter the horrible sword fighting minigame. This switches to a first-person view, and you must angle the Wiimote correctly to block incoming attacks. Once you’ve blocked enough, the enemy is stunned and you can then go on the attack by flailing madly. These sword fights are ridiculously hard and fiddly to control. You will find them easier with practice, and there are forced boss fights with the swords that will make you learn how to do it, but the whole thing feels like it would have benefitted from being slowed down and finetuned.
Despite all the flaws that come with the controls of this game, I still don’t hate it. Character design is super cool, stealth-kills look awesome, and the presentation is great. There are times where everything comes together and works. Stealth dashing from bush to bush before grabbing a guard and running him through with his own sword, jumping into a pond, swimming across to the other side, pulling a guard in to the water and drowning him, sneaking into a house and jumping up to the rafters, sneaking across to position yourself above your target then leaning down to pick him up and snap his neck. When it works, it’s great, but then the controls consistently let you down. There are 10 stages, each lasting around an hour, as well as bonus stages to unlock, a harder difficulty and Mission Mode (little 10 minute missions), so there’s plenty of game time. Worth a look if you’re a Tenchu fan, otherwise maybe give it a rent. The game did make me track down Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven for PS2 on eBay, so I guess that’s a compliment, in a way.
Great lead character design and environments, especially for the Wii.
Great music and voice acting, though the sound effects are below par.
There are fun times, but these are outweighed by frustration and poor controls.
Fun when it works, and plenty of potential, but controls let it down.