As part of its Bringing It Home campaign to help drum up excitement around this week's Tokyo Game Show, Microsoft released a playable demo of Tenchu Senran for the Xbox 360 on Xbox Live Marketplace earlier today. The demo is only available to those with Japanese Xbox Live accounts, so you might not find it on your version of Xbox Live, but we've got the details for you right here. Tenchu Senran will be the next game in the long-running ninja stealth action series that originated on the PlayStation. Much like previous Tenchu games, Senran tasks you with skulking through medieval Japanese environments, stabbing unsuspecting guards and other enemies in the back while they're not looking. You can use tools like grappling hooks and explosives to help you get around and dispatch foes.
The playable demo offers a look at the game's simple-but-new character-creation system, as well as some new visuals and an enigmatic new ninja character decked out in a trench coat, which you'll see in a port-side stage that has you taking on surly sailors and seasoned ronin. The demo has some promising qualities, but clunky controls and animations, plus graphics that are on par with last-gen Tenchu, don't make this a necessary use of your precious hard-disk space. Furthermore, signature Tenchu characters Rikimaru and Ayame are nowhere to be found here.
Experienced Tenchu players will be surprised to find that the first task Tenchu Senran asks you to do is create your own pair of ninjas. You can choose from a number of male and female faces and outfits, as well as adjust a few different statistics to affect the way your character performs in action. However, this isn't that deep of a character-creation system, as you aren't given a choice of fighting styles, voices, special abilities, or anything like that. You just cobble together a couple of ninja characters and then dive on into the demo's one level.
The controls are roughly similar to previous Tenchu installments, though the camera--which has been problematic in earlier games--seems unfinished here. The camera angle doesn't automatically adjust when you're high up on a ledge, and you need to constantly fiddle with it to make sure it's showing you what you want to see. As in earlier games, your character moves somewhat slowly and is best suited to stealthy attacks rather than head-on assaults. Head-to-head fighting boils down to waiting for an opening in your opponent's defense or just hitting the attack button over and over. It's best to avoid these situations, which is easy to do since enemies will forget about you after half a minute or so if you run around the corner. The onscreen interface and the stealth mechanics in general are just like previous Tenchu games. The same goes for the grappling hook, a mainstay of the Tenchu series, which lets you get out of harm's way or get up on a ledge to plan a deadly strike.
The new stealth kills look quite good, and the game features its signature blood geysers for when foes are killed by these ruthless techniques. To stealth-kill someone, you move in close to the enemy without getting noticed and then hit the attack button. There's a fairly forgiving window of opportunity for surprising foes with such an attack, even when they've spun around to face you head-on.
It takes less than 15 minutes to get through this port-side level (if you know your way around a Tenchu game), which culminates in a brief showdown against the aforementioned trench-coat-wearing character. During the course of the demo, some visual enhancements new to the 360 version of Tenchu are on display, but the game's low-res textures and some stilted animations make it look unfinished and below par for what we've come to expect from the 360. At least the game's got a catchy musical score to it, including a decent Japanese pop song that plays over the cinematic introduction.
Tenchu Senran ships to Japanese retailers in less than a month, so we'll be anxious to see if any of the issues present in this demo will be addressed in the final version. No announcements have been made about plans to release the game in other territories.