Version tested: Xbox 360
I crouch atop a moonlit wall, stalking my prey as the crane stalks the koi. Choosing my moment, I drop silently to the ground and begin to creep across open ground. Disaster! A wandering guard sees me, and runs to intercept. I sprint back to the wall, vault onto the top, and prepare for the worst. Several guards are now heading in my direction but...what's this? Upon arriving at the base of the wall, on top of which I am very obviously sitting, they decide to give up the chase, apparently bamboozled by my ability to perch slightly above eye level.
A different place, a different time, but a very similar situation. I am squatting low against the top of a wall, hoping to evade another curious guard. This one is more tenacious. He actually climbs the wall and draws his sword. Standing mere inches away from me, he flaps his arms, turns around on the spot and falls off the wall. Then he forgets that he was pursuing a black-clad assassin and just wanders off. I dutifully follow him and gut him like a rabbit.
Later still. Inside an enemy stronghold, in search of secret plans. I have aroused the attention of a rival master of ninjitsu and, rather than engage in open combat, I retreat into a nearby room in the hope of finding a more stealthy solution to the situation. In the middle of the floor is a trap door. The enemy ninja runs straight towards me, jogs on the spot in front of the gaping hole for a good ten seconds, then falls through it. I continue on my way.
Honestly, I've got a notebook full of similar stories from my time spent in next-gen ninja land courtesy of Tenchu Z, and could easily fill the rest of the review with examples of the bone-headed foes I found there. Suffice to say, for a series now on its eighth incarnation, Tenchu is still pretty much the same game that debuted on the original PlayStation: outdated graphics, basic AI, clunky controls and all.
There are some new developments, but they're mostly cosmetic in nature and do little to compensate for the game's fundamental shortcomings. You can now design your own ninja, for example, using a selection of horribly rendered faces and assorted clothing (hint: black is this season's colour) as well as assigning some basic attributes - health, power and agility. Regardless of what you choose, you'll be hard pushed to notice the effects in-game. You can also trade in your points to buy new abilities and moves, though these are so complicated to execute - and so utterly unnecessary for most of the game - that, again, you can safely ignore this feature without it impacting your gameplay one jot.
Online play returns, and Tenchu followers will still enjoy the prospect of creeping around together. For those who aren't married to the brand (and, really, if you're still devoted to a series this stylistically retarded after ten years you're no longer a fan - you're an apologist) the sparse nature of the Live play will fail to impress. It's nothing more than the most simplistic co-op mode possible, allowing you to replay levels with up to four players but with no added objectives or incentives. Even though it's supposedly co-operative you're still competing for the most kills, yet the deathmatch mode from the last Xbox version has, unbelievably, been removed. Offering less gameplay than was available on older hardware, this lazy attempt at multiplayer is deserving of only the faintest praise.
Meanwhile, the laughably titled "Ninja Village" game hub is simply a tiny location where you can buy and equip items and abilities, or select your next mission. It's a menu screen, basically, but dressed up as a RPG style hub, where even just starting a new mission (handed to you by Rikimaru, the grey-haired hero of Tenchus past) is a long-winded affair.
Are you ready to accept a mission? Yes.
Are ready to go on a mission? Well, yes.
Select your mission. Alright then.
Do you accept this mission? For the love of Mifune, YES. I just selected it.
Do you want to depart now? OH PLEASE JUST LET ME START THE SODDING MISSION.