Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven Review
Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven not only lives up to its predecessors' own high standards, but also to the generally high standards of stealth action gaming.
The original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was quietly released back in 1998, a matter of months before two other definitive stealth action games, Metal Gear Solid and Thief: The Dark Project, hit shelves. The three of them were each very different but collectively defined a style of gaming that's remained popular ever since, where staying hidden and striking from out of sight is the key, and slugging it out toe-to-toe with one's enemies is bad form. If anyone's keeping track, Tenchu by all rights is the first modern stealth game--a true innovator. Years later, though, its formula hasn't changed much: The series is up to its third installment in Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, a game that's mostly similar to the original Tenchu as well as its 2000 sequel but that has been enhanced to take advantage of current-generation technology. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven challenges you to once again think, move, and act like a ninja through numerous enemy-infested levels in an exotic feudal Japan filled with magic and mysticism. The game offers up plenty of great and memorable action, making Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven well suited not just for existing fans of the series, but for virtually anyone with an interest in the game's subject matter.
As in previous Tenchu games, the main characters in this one are a young male and female pair of ninjas from the Azuma clan, the strong and disciplined Rikimaru and the lithe and lightning-fast Ayame. A number of other old characters make returning appearances, and while the plot doesn't necessarily expect you to be familiar with them, it won't make a whole lot of sense either way. The connection from one mission to the next is vague, and the story introduces a lot of details that aren't really fleshed out. Suffice it to say that both Ayame and Rikimaru are on the trail of a couple of bad guys, and what other excuse do you really need to step into their shoes and try to silently slay everything from lecherous samurai, to renegade ninjas, to potbellied demons, to festering zombies, to weird automatons, to evil monks? This isn't lighthearted stuff, as both Rikimaru and Ayame are equipped with a good variety of moves designed to deal swift, painful death to their enemies. Like in previous Tenchu games, Rikimaru and Ayame can kill any foe with a single attack if they can sneak up on that foe--though if detected, the two can still hold their own in a head-on fight.
The game's story mode initially lets you choose either Rikimaru or Ayame, each of whom has a good-sized 10-mission campaign for you to fight through. Once you finish those, a third not-so-secret character, a martial artist doctor named Tesshu, also becomes available and has his own slightly shorter campaign. Tesshu isn't as conventional of a ninja as the other two and fights bare-handed, hitting his enemies' pressure points or dislocating and breaking their limbs as necessary, with plenty of dramatic flair. Each character's campaign has some replay value due to the game's multiple difficulty settings and also because there are three variations on each level, which change around the layout of enemy guard patrols. The campaigns are all somewhat similar, meaning you'll revisit mostly the same locations from one campaign to the next, though your objectives in them and your path through them will be different. Nevertheless, while Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven does have a lot of missions and a lot of variations on those missions, you'll get to know the game's relative few locations--from a bizarre castle filled with traps, to a ronin village, to a cemetery--very well by the time you've gone through all three campaigns.
The settings and objectives of each mission do vary, but each one plays out roughly the same way. You control your ninja from a third-person perspective and must work your way through each large, sometimes mazelike level while dispatching enemy guards when their backs are turned. Your ninja can see farther than your enemies can, and moving about while crouched often allows you to remain completely invisible to your enemies even when you'd expect them to be able to see you. Your character is virtually silent, too, so it's possible to run right up and murder an enemy who's looking the other way. An indicator representing your ninja's heightened senses informs you of when enemies are nearby and of which stage of alert they're in so that you know when to tread carefully or when to actively stalk for prey. Furthermore, your ninja can use a wide variety of gadgets and items in each mission, from poisonous rice balls that can distract and paralyze enemy guards, to explosives, to throwing stars, to bear traps, to mind control devices, but most of these--with the exception of the healing potions that restore you to full health--aren't essential. They can still be a lot of fun to use, though. Potions aside, the other item that often comes into play is the grappling hook, which lets your ninja scale high walls and grab onto otherwise unreachable ledges. You can use the hook to latch onto most surfaces, and this not only serves to make your ninja seem extremely mobile, but also gave the level designers of Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven license to create big, multistory environments rather than purely flat ones.
The thrill of the hunt in Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven can be quite thrilling indeed. The characters have different stealth kill moves depending on whether they catch the opponent from behind, from the side, from the front, from above, and more, and all these motion-captured animations look really good. Certain types of opponents can be quite tough if fought head-on, so there's definitely incentive to get the stealth kill, especially since landing enough stealth kills in one mission unlocks a new special move for your character. On the other hand, the campaigns never strictly require you to remain hidden (though you're ranked at the end of each level based on your stealth), and at the default difficulty setting, the combat in Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is actually rather easy for the most part. If that enemy ninja you're sneaking up on happens to notice you, you should still be able to take him down in a one-on-one fight. His attacks won't hurt you too much, and he'll do a pretty poor job of blocking yours. And it's relatively rare to come up against more than one opponent at a time, let alone more than two, though those situations are definitely more dangerous.
- Player Reviews: 56
- Game Universe:
- Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (PS2, MOBILE),
- Tenchu Z (X360),
- Tenchu: Time of the Assassins (PSP),
- Tenchu: Fatal Shadows (PS2),
- Tenchu: Return From Darkness (XBOX),
- Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins (PS),
- Rittai Ninja Katsugeki Tenchu: Shinobi Hyakusen (PS),
- Rittai Ninja Katsugeki Tenchu: Shinobi Gaisen (PS),
- Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (PS),
- Tenchu (MOBILE)
- Offline Modes:
- Number of Players: