Tenchu: Dark Secret takes ninjas Rikimaru and Ayame from the popular PlayStation series and squanders their potential in a generic action title that has little, if anything, to do with stealth. Even the plot is tired: players must rescue and defend a Japanese princess from being kidnapped by a group of evil bandits who have surrounded her village.
Viewed from above at a slight angle, players run around blurry, pixilated backgrounds trying to sneak up on guards from behind for a one-hit kill. Despite the variety of the tasks assigned (rescue a townsman, defend the village gate, retrieve food supplies), most of the missions are accomplished in a decidedly un-ninja like manner: by hunting and killing everyone on the map, even sentries quietly minding their business hundreds of feet from a level's supposed objective.
Players have a large arsenal of ninja gear to dispatch their foes with: throwing stars, grenades, bear traps and even the famous poisoned rice ball from the PlayStation series. Bonus points are awarded for creating elaborate trap combinations (like planting a mine that launches an enemy into bamboo spikes), but compared to a few hits from a sword, these are more trouble than they're worth. Players who run out of ninja gear can build replacements by finding component parts scattered around the maps or in the pockets of slain guards. Once the village's corresponding craftsman has been rescued, new items become available. The game takes its story rather seriously and players will have to scroll through pages of wordy dialogue after each mission.
When you boil it all down, Tenchu: Dark Secret is a missed opportunity. Wi-Fi gameplay is limited to exchanging items in an online marketplace and multiplayer is limited to local wireless play. It's a shame, really. The DS could have used one of its dual screens as a magical map to give the locations of patrolling sentries, the microphone used to whisper distractions to guards and the touch screen used to plant ninja traps with pixel-perfect precision. Unfortunately, the developers opted instead for run-of-the-mill hack-and-slash game mechanics, and so they turned out a game that incorporates very little of what makes the system so enticing in the first place.