Nintendo's Dirty Little Secret

User Rating: 6.5 | Tenchu: Dark Shadow DS
Put away any notions of playing a console-style version of Tenchu on your DS. This ain't it – pure and simple. But for what Dark Secret is, it's actually quite fun. Perhaps if more critics were able to be objective in the sense of considering a game in the context of the platform that it's on, this Tenchu would have fared better.

There are some things, obviously, that you can poke holes at with Dark Secret. It's not a very long game, nor is it a very pretty game. And at the original retail price that was being asked, Tenchu: Dark Secret wasn't much of a bargain either. However, it's been out for a while now and is probably worth a second look, since you're likely to find it at a more reasonable price.

Dark Secret is an action game. The console iterations were all about the stealth, and though that does play a part in this game, it's not the main focus. There are only two actual stealth moves: your ability to come up from behind an enemy, and the ability to cleave to walls and such when your character nears them -- giving you the only bit of control over the otherwise fixed camera. But slowly edging your way up along a wall or other obstacle, in hopes of taking your foe on unawares, just isn't an option in this game.

That said, the gameplay is still very satisfying. It's also kept quite simple, which works surprisingly well. There aren't a ton of combos thrown in to try to make the game appear more interesting than it really is, rather the missions are designed in a way that make the gameplay fun and entertaining. You have three basic moves: slash, guard and jump. You can also lay traps, using the X-button. The touch-screen really only comes into play when selecting an action item to be used with the X-button, but touch-screen isn't really missed either.

Interesting Gameplay Features:

• Play as one of two characters – Rikimaru (the muscle – good for head-on battles) or Ayame (the better stealth character)
• Local versus battles with friends (multi-card, I believe – can't say I've had the pleasure of trying it).
• Online market – buy and sell items acquired in the single-player game.
• Collectables in the form of scrolls and kill-gallery images. A bit on the macabre side for me, but…if it floats your boat.

The game is broken into various missions, and short story snippets are weaved throughout. Perhaps you've heard it all before, but Dark Secret's story is still interesting and enjoyable. A pair of ninjas must rescue a princess – not much there perhaps – but for an arcade-style action game, it works quite well. If you enjoy a mature, Orient-themed fantasy, Dark Secret shouldn't disappoint.

Where Tenchu falls short, mainly, is in its look. The character models are actually quite attractive, but everything else is…well, it ain't pretty. Lots of blocky environments, not a lot of variety, and the same bandit foes are recycled over and over. During the story elements – which segue missions – you get static storyboards and, though they are pretty to look at, there aren't many of them.

But the presentation of Dark Secret is not all bad. The sound and music are actually pretty impressive for a DS game. The title music is very pretty, very authentic, and it comes across on the DS speakers in a fairly high fidelity. The menu music is a really cool, heavy-metal-type thing, with variations presented in different menus. The in-game music, too, is very atmospheric, though a little repetitious. Dark Secret also offers some actual voice work, albeit minor. At the beginning of levels, your character will utter a quick snippet, and enemies babble various things at you if you're discovered.

The menus, themselves, are very attractive and well-organized. You're given the option to make gear from recipes and items you receive. You can also shop and sell items, as well as choose from the various missions you've unlocked. And though the game definitely seems to be catered toward veterans of the series, there is a quick control guide offered as one of the menu options. Sound and music settings can be changed, and all the menu icons have a cool Asian flavor that should satisfy ninja lovers.

Sounds great, eh? Well, it's not. The game is good, not great. The AI isn't terrible – the enemies guard attacks quite well – but they do only a repetitive set of moves and speak the same sayings over and over. The missions are also pretty much the same thing, with only a little variation here and there. You do get boss battles thrown in, and they are, indeed, satisfying to beat, but the bosses are relative pushovers. Lastly, though the top-down camera system is probably the best choice for this type of game on the DS, it can be quite a hindrance all the same. It would have been nice if the camera could have been scrolled down somehow to offer a behind-the-back view, ala Warcraft 3 or the tinkered-with version of Metal Gear Solid 3 – Subsistence.

But I think the two things that were pitted most against Dark Secret upon its release were that it was obscured by some weird exclusivity thing with EB Games – you could only buy it from them – and, again, it's just not the prettiest thing we've seen on the DS. However, if you can find it for $20 (or less) – new or used – and you're a fan of this type of game, you're likely to be well satisfied in adding it to your collection. The game offers a high polish on the presentation front, and is solid where the gameplay is concerned, but at the same token it could have used some spit and polish in the graphics and missions departments. Overall Dark Secret probably could have been a whole lot better. I'd like to see another go at the series on the DS. I think the developers have a lot of good ideas, and perhaps we could eventually see a really tight offering should there be a next time around.

Hope this review helps if you were curious about the game. Thanks for reading, and happy gaming.



Presentation / 8
A fine story, weaved neatly in & out of the various missions. Not much variation in the storyboards, though. The menus are very attractive, and there are a lot of useful options that enhance the overall experience.

Graphics / 6
Decent character models and the cutscenes have a nice cinematic quality to them, but the environments are mostly boxy and pixilated. There isn't much variation in either the areas you explore or the enemies you encounter.

Sound / 9
There isn't much variety where the voiceovers are concerned, but – hey – there are voiceovers; that's gotta count for something. But the music is…well, now that I think about it, it's pretty darn stellar. I go in for all that authentic Asian stuff, and the heavy-metal music that's played in the menu screens somehow works perfectly, as well.

Gameplay / 7
Solid. Missions are fun, though a tad repetitive. I do, however, appreciate the fact that the combat was kept simple. This just isn't the type of game that requires your character to have a bunch of combo moves and such. Laying traps and watching enemies fall into them, or whacking foes from behind, is very satisfying, no matter how many times you perform these tasks.

Replay / 6
If you're into collecting death scenes (ew), then there's plenty to come back to in this game. There's also some incentive in the online trading, but it's a pretty short game overall. The multiplayer – as I've said about every other game like this – should have either been a local, single-card offering or an online offering…or both, but local multi-card play isn't going to extend the life of a game for most DS owners.

Overall / 7 (Strictly at a discounted price – the score goes down as the price goes up.)

Final Comments: If you're into ninjas (registered Naruto fan here) or think you might enjoy some arcade-style stealth action on your DS, you might really enjoy this game. But it's a niche title, to be sure. So, it's likely not for everyone. Buyer beware!