While most stealth action games involve counterterrorism in near-future scenarios, the Tenchu series lurks in the shadows of feudal Japan. As Ayane, the loyal ninja servant of Lord Gohda, it's your job to seek out the corrupt and slit their throats. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is less bloody than its console counterpart, but it's still one of the grittier action games on the mobile platform, and it features similar stealth mechanics to the console version. The wireless Tenchu brings honor to its console brethren, and it is indeed a notable example of the stealth genre on mobile, although a few superior genre pieces have become available since its European release.
The plot of Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven has been broken into three mobile installments, this being the first. A similar system was recently used by Tecmo to shrink its classic Ninja Gaiden game into handheld-size episodes. Although you'll have to buy the upcoming second and third episodes to bring the game's story to a close, this first episode provides a decent amount of gameplay for the platform. It's also highly replayable on the Nokia 6620.
Each gameplay sequence takes place in a finite space, which you can survey in its entirety with your ninja vision. Navigating each section requires dispatching patrolling guards, who will turn their backs on you for just long enough so that you can sneak up behind and silently kill them. Throughout the game, a stealth indicator will let you know how visible you are. If an enemy spots you, he will engage you in melee combat. While these hand-to-hand confrontations are hardly the focus of Tenchu's gameplay, they're almost fun enough to constitute their own game. In addition to using your katana, you can attack with grenades, smoke bombs, tranquilizer darts, or shuriken. Stealth kills are much more rewarding, however, both for the health points they save you and for the great death animations that precede them. A stealth kill is initiated when you take an enemy unawares, either by emerging from the shadows or by leaping from a rooftop (which you can reach using your grappling hook).
While the mobile Tenchu is hardly three dimensional, its isometric viewpoint gives the world depth, allowing you to hide behind buildings and trees. The game's simple visuals embody the minimalist style put forth by the 3D installments in the series, and the graphics shine where they should--during the stealth-kill cutscenes, which are drawn in an appropriate manga style. Compared to the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell mobile series, though, the Tenchu engine looks pretty pedestrian.
Tenchu's sound is certainly not its strong suit. While none of it is particularly offensive, it just seems as though the minimum possible effort was put into its production. Japanese instruments, like kotos and shamisen, are standard in most MIDI instrument sets and therefore could have easily been used to lend the game atmosphere. The bleeps and bloops that accompany the game's violent action seem pretty out of place.
Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven nails the series' stealth action gameplay, and it feels very polished in that regard. The game has thankfully made a smooth transition to two dimensions, and the resulting product excels in all the same ways as its predecessors, for which graphics were never a high point. While Tenchu's production values could have used a boost, particularly in the sound department, this is a very good game that will appeal to fans of the series and of the genre at large.