There some things in life that are just flat-out cool: Pirates, robots, and ninjas are a few that immediately come to mind. Unfortunately, having just one of these things in a game doesn't make it cool, or else Tenchu Z would be one seriously cool game thanks to its copious number of ninjas. If you really immerse yourself in the role of a ninja it's possible to have some fun with Tenchu Z, but it's unlikely that most people will be able to get past the game's many flaws, which include a disjointed story, repetitive missions, and terrible enemy artificial intelligence.
Tenchu Z's story is told by cutscenes that take place before and after each one of its 50 missions. While there may be plenty of story, it's difficult to follow because you only have to play certain missions to beat the game, which means you only get the highlights of the story and none of the small details that hold it together. Basically all you need to know is that you're a ninja trying to stop a bad guy who traffics an illegal drug and wants to take over your town.
The game starts with you picking your character's sex and then customizing his or her outfit. You also get to customize a second ninja, but other than watching them occasionally pop up in some cutscenes, you'll never get to see them and their presence is never explained. Before you get around to picking a level you'll find yourself in your own village. Here you can buy and equip new items, weapons, and clothes. You can also purchase new skills and shift your attributes a bit to help you cope with the level you're getting ready to attempt. If there are a lot of enemies you may want to increase your health or strength and decrease your agility. If you're going to be spending your time on the rooftops avoiding combat you might want to consider lowering your health and increasing your agility. It's an interesting concept, but you'll rarely need to make any adjustments.
Fifty missions is an impressive number, at least until you take into account how little variety there is from one mission to the next. Nearly every mission has you seeking out a specific person so that you may kill, talk to, or rescue them. Sometimes you'll have to kill everyone in a level, follow someone without getting detected, or acquire a specific item, but even these objectives don't feel vastly different from one another. Each level generally starts with you outside of a town or village. Your job is to avoid detection while you accomplish the level's objective.
To do so you'll want to stay silent, hide in bushes, lurk in shadows or behind corners, or even stick to the rooftops. A meter gives you a visual representation of how well you're hidden; another shows the alertness of the enemy; and yet another meter shows how close you are to the nearest foe. If you can stay hidden you can get the jump on enemies and kill them quickly and quietly with the push of a button. You can also knock them unconscious to avoid spilling blood, but despite your enemies' ability to smell blood on you, you can get through the game just fine by killing every person you come across. If you are discovered, enemies will become more alert and will actively seek you out, but they have the attention span of fruit flies and will quickly abandon pursuit and head back to their post as if nothing ever happened. If you choose fight over flight, you'll spend your time hitting the X button to swing your sword as you flick the right analog stick and right trigger in an effort to keep the camera fixed on your target. It's difficult to tell when enemies are dead, when you've hit them, and when you've got an opening to attack.
If you immerse yourself in the role of a ninja and play the game as the developer probably intended, there's some fun to be had here. It's satisfying to stalk your prey and then kill them without alerting the guard who's lurking mere feet away. The big problem is that you're never forced to play the game this way because, except for in a few levels, there's no penalty for being seen. Sure, you won't get a big monetary bonus after beating the level if you get spotted repeatedly, but the enemies are so stupid that you never need the smoke bombs, blow guns, throwing stars, mines, or any other of the game's cool weapons. It's far too easy to wait for your enemy to turn his back and then summersault up to him to kill him (which, somehow, makes no noise). On the hardest difficulty, even the second-to-last level in the game can be completed in about 30 seconds by running straight past everyone and then waiting for your objective to turn his back so you can kill him, spraying absurd amounts of poorly drawn blood with one press of the X button.
If you're somehow able to avoid temptation and play the game "normally," you'll be punished by enemies that can somehow sense your presence through walls and a camera that doesn't do well in close quarters. Everyone gets to suffer through a clunky control scheme that has you press the right analog stick in, move it to aim, and then hit the left bumper to fire, as well as glitches that see enemies stuck in walls or floating on air. When you die you're further punished with long load times as you're taken back to your village, where you must reequip your items, choose your mission, and then sit through more loading. You can play cooperatively with friends via Xbox Live and system link, but the game's so poor that you probably won't want to.
Tenchu Z's graphics do little to improve the experience. The first few levels don't look half bad--the towns and villages look decent, and there are some nice details to admire here and there. Then you get further into the game and notice that each village looks the same as the next one and there are only a few different types of buildings. Characters all look pretty cool and they're all intimidating, but their faces are an absolute mess and there are only a couple of different character designs, which are animated poorly and frequently fade in and out of view thanks to a less-than-impressive draw distance. You'll also notice that someone inside a building can cast a shadow through the floor onto the ground below. The prerendered cutscenes look nice, but most cutscenes use the in-game engine and don't look very good at all. Tenchu doesn't sound too hot, either. The music is sparse and there's almost no variety to the sound effects. The voice acting is in Japanese, so it's difficult to say whether it's any good or not, but there's no doubt that the script is terrible. Characters who don't move their lips when they talk certainly don't help the cause.
From top to bottom, Tenchu Z is a disappointment. No matter what aspect of the game you look at, there's a fatal flaw. There are 50 missions, but most of them are the same. You can sneak around, find creative ways to get to your objective, use a large number of interesting weapons, and kill bad guys with the press of a button, but you don't need to because you can simply run or summersault right past everyone. You can extract some fun out of the experience if you use your imagination and approach each level like a ninja, but unless you really, really want to kill some ninjas, you shouldn't waste time and energy trying to make this game fun. The developer certainly didn't.