Once upon a time, the Tenchu series was cool. It was also unique. Back when the original PlayStation titles were coming out, the idea of a "stealth" genre - videogames in which you actually go out of your way to avoid action - was novel. But now that even non-ninja characters like Sam Fisher and Solid Snake have made sneaking around seem passé, how can Tenchu stay relevant?
By simply piling on the quantity of methods in which you can creep around unnoticed. The options in Tenchu Z, the franchise's newest entry on Xbox 360, are a bit overwhelming. In just the first half hour of gameplay, we learned how to crouch, crawl, lean, peek, wall hug and flip backwards through the air to softly land on the unsuspecting side of an enemy. Those are just the basics.
Above: Microsoft wanted us to emphasize that these screens are from a preview build. Perhaps the retail version will add color?
What would a stealth game be without the stealth kill? By tiptoeing quietly, keeping to shadows, hiding around corners, waiting for backs to be turned and, most importantly, watching the menu's awareness meter, we were also able to slit the throats of our adversaries before they even knew were there. The brutality of our character was impressive... the unrealistic, broken sink spurting of the blood was not.
Then we discovered some of the game's more creative options. You don't have to kill every person you run into... if they're an innocent villager, you'll want to knock them out cold instead. You don't have to sneak through every room... sometimes you can grapple hook the ceiling and snake above the roof tiles instead.
Tenchu Z seems to have thought of little ninja touches for almost everything. Afraid that diving into that pool will cause a splash and alert the nearby guards? Creep up to the water's edge and hit a button to roll in without a sound, then use a bamboo shoot to breathe while under the surface. Fall into a smelly booby trap (yes, apparently such things exist) and worry that a guard will sense your putrid presence from a mile away? Wash off in the aforementioned water or douse yourself with a special perfume.
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