The Tenchu series has been around for quite some time now. Initially making its debut on the Playstation, the series moved to the next generation Sony console and up until now has been Sony exclusive. However K2 and Activision have decided to expand the scope of the title and it is now available for the Xbox console. Whilst the game from the PS2 primarily remains the same, some new additions have been added to the Xbox version including an online component, which unfortunately may come as a disappointment to some.
The storyline is divided up into two main campaigns with two different protagonists; Ayame and Rikkimaru. Set in the 16th century, strange happenings are occurring in Japan and it is up to you to discover and ultimately rid the country of these happenings. Whilst the game does feature two main campaigns, and a third once those two are complete, the storyline primarily remains the same and only the tasks change.
Tenchu: Return from the Darkness is played in a third person perspective like the other titles in the franchise. Your task basically involves either finding a missing person, defeating an enemy, reaching an area or destroying some objects. However how you do this is completely up to you, to a degree the game is completely open ended. You're dropped into the current environment and how you reach your task or accomplish it is open to you. You can, as the game encourages use stealth and kill only when necessary, or kill basically anything that moves. This freedom can offer some replay value as you can find numerous different ways to move through an area, even though the task remains the same. To give an example many of the locations are situated in small townships and given the skill of both Ninjas you can either walk on the ground (boring) or jump across the rooftops and jump for the kill from above.
There are a few significant problems we have with the game which make the game quite easy to complete. First being the occasionally brainless humans who seem to be portrayed as AI. If they see you, they can inflict some damage but for them to see you, you usually have to make a mistake. They do call their mates via a whistle once they are seen, which can cause some problems for you. However it is entirely possible to run up behind someone at full speed and perform an execution on them before they even blink an eye lid. This of course ruins the illusion that the ninjas use stealth to kill enemies. The other problem comes from a game design decision and leads to you not caring about inflicting damage or even having your character die. Should you run into problems and just want to move on, there are some codes available.
After you die, you restart from a checkpoint but all the enemies you had already killed, remain dead. This makes the game easy to complete because you know that eventually you will be able to finish the mission, this even applies to boss fights. At the higher difficulty levels this does not occur, but instead the entire mission must be restarted. It would have been nice to have a stop gap for players who want more of a challenge but not repeat missions over and over again. Another small issue is the fact you can't get back to the main menu from within a mission. A reset of the Xbox is required.
However its not all bad news for fans of the franchise because there is one thing that Tenchu does well and that is the fact it gives you a feeling of enjoyment playing the game. You will anticipate your next kill via execution and attack from different angles to see the variety on offer. Before each mission you select your load out including items such as health. As you progress further into the storyline, more can be carried each mission. One interesting aspect is that using an item such as health around an enemy isn't a good idea. If they spot you drinking from the canister, and then hit you, the canister will be dropped and your health will not replenish. A small but impressive feature.
There is also a decent variety of areas that you explore before the storyline ends. Two new missions have been added for the Xbox version and are not just tacked on. They are interspersed with the storyline so add even more to what played out in the PS2 version, whether that's enough for owners of the PS2 version to buy it again is debatable but the addition of Xbox live play just may get you excited. Two options are available for play; co-operative and deathmatch. In co-operative you pair together to complete tasks such as finding scrolls or protecting a leader such as Gohda, one of the games main characters. The Xbox Live play may come as a disappointment to some because you can only have two people in a game at a time and also the implementation of the actual feature. It takes quite a bit of time to get a game going and when your hosting a game and someone wants you to join, for some reason the game then invites you to their game, which is non-existent before starting.
In terms of looks the game won't win any awards as the best on the Xbox but it does look decent and maintains a constantly stable framerate. The missions are set in a variety of places such as townships, caves, a tower etc and each have unique architecture. The townships feature authentic Japanese feudal style buildings and the enemy ninjas and playable characters also animate in a fashion you would expect from a game set in 16th century Japan. The presentation of the game is also one of the highlights with a strong emphasis on Japanese culture and history. The game isn't light on the 'tomato sauce' either with enemies spurting out blood profusely after being defeated. The game also features an authentic style soundtrack and voice acting which adds to the storyline. Having Japanese language with subtitles may have added to the immersion factor however.
Tenchu: Return from the Darkness is a decent start to what will hopefully become a long life for the franchise on the Xbox console. The new additions probably aren't enough for owners of the PS2 version to shell out the full asking price again for the Xbox version but for those new to the franchise it offers a decent experience which should keep fans of ninja games happy for a while, despite its flaws.