Title :Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
Platforms :Sony PlayStation
Publisher :Activision
Game Rating :9.4
Review by :Ken Gagne

A ninja moves with stealth, accomplishing his goals with as few people aware of his presence as possible. Considering that, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, a sony PlayStation game from Activision, has already achieved victory: it appeared out of nowhere with little fanfare, but is captivating audiences everywhere. 

Tenchu is set in 14th-century feudal Japan, when territorial lords fluctuate between war and peace regularly. Gamers play as either Rikimaru or Ayame, ninja under the command of the benevolent Lord Gohda. This ruler dispatches his mercenaries on various missions, which they accomplish from a 3D perspective similar to Tomb Raider. Each level is unattached to others and brings its own challenges. 

Tenchu is rated "M", for mature (17+ years old) audiences, due to gratuitous blood, and the fact that ninja don't fight how we would consider "fair". The game rewards stealth: enemies caught unaware can be eliminated with a single stroke. Dismemberment, disembowelment, beheadings, broken necks, and slit throats are the most common and effective means of disposal, and a dark pleasure to many. 

A Ki meter details an enemy's proximity to and awareness of the gamer. The above attacks can be employed when the meter reads "?"; otherwise, the enemy has either spotted you, been alerted to your presence (say by a barking dog, or the sight of a dead body), or is actively attacking you. 

Tenchu responds with tight controls. The myriad functions don't take long to learn and translate into true, ninja-like agility and functionality. It's a great thrill to be locked in combat with an opposing ninja, only to do a moonsault jump and land facing the enemy's unexposed back. Crouching, crawling, and sliding along walls are excellent, dramatic ways to move stealthily. Various items are available, from grappling hooks to shuriken (ninja stars) to colored rice (for marking paths) to poisoned rice (for feeding unsuspecting guard dogs). 

The graphics are mostly good, with a few faults. The ninja slink through villas and forests, usually under the cover of night. Though the graphics are dark, it is easy to spot items and enemies. When near walls or roofs, the sprites sometimes glitch, becoming transparent. But when pressed against walls, the camera smoothly moves to show what's around the corner – unrealistic, but incredibly useful. 

Digitized speech is in English with Japanese accents. Most gamers would prefer this, but considering there are also English subtitles, the original speech would have proven more authentic. The music is great, setting the mood without proving intrusive to the ninjas' silent mood, employing the drums, wind instruments, and chimes prevalent in Japanese melodies. 

Tenchu is a stealth game not only in its method of play, but also in how quickly and silently it hit store shelves. Tenchu provides players an exciting role with which to explore this intriguing period in Japanese history. Its dramatic, realistic, but most of all, fun gameplay destines it to be a sleeper hit.

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 05-Oct-98