When I picked up Tenchu way back in the late 90’s I did so with a new fascination about stealth games. Metal Gear Solid opened my eyes up to a new way to play a game. To be able to get through areas without touching a single enemy was amazing & the thought of doing this, ninja style had me pretty excited.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is set in feudal Japan where the player can chose between 2 ninjas to play as. Rikimaru uses a sword, is the stronger of the 2 but slower while Ayame uses 2 daggers, is faster & has more combos, but is weaker. Both are part of the Azuma clan & serve Lord Gohda as his spies & justice deliverers. However the evil sorcerer Lord Mei-Oh seeks to destroy Lord Gohda & take over the land with the aid of his servant warrior Onikage.
There are 10 levels to pay through all with a nice variety of approaches, enemies & bosses. It is possible to complete some levels without alerting a single enemy while others will see you take on a boss character.
All the levels take place at night which works well with the stealthy aspect of the game (although it was actually because of the PS1’s limitations) & using a grappling hook that both characters can use make most rooftops accessible. It is an invaluable tool as most of your approaches will come from that angle.
Enemies litter the levels mostly walking along pre-determined paths, getting past them or killing them will take planning & thought. It’s a lot of fun especially if you are aiming for the best ranking.
There are number of ways to kill with stealth & each comes with a lot of blood. That’s right, cut an enemies throat & watch the blood flow…it’s a wonder the nearby enemies don’t hear the sound of it all splashing on the ground! My favourite is the jump from up high on top of the enemy with sword or daggers raised.
Of course there are a number of other ways to dispatch enemies such as poisoned rice, grenades, mines & darts. These are useful unless you are going for a clean stealthy run. One the best tools in the game is the rice mixed with a sleeping poison that will put an enemy down for the count allowing you to gain a stealth kill easily.
If you stealthily kill most enemies you won’t notice much variety in them beside their dress or type of movement but should you get into a straight up battle with them then the differences become apparent. They can range from basic sword men to jumping & flipping cat-like women & even bears.
The story holds together well & is spread across 10 levels with objectives that tie into the final boss encounter. You won’t feel emotionally invested but you will enjoy what pans out at the end.
The game holds up really well under scrutiny & still looks pretty good for coming out in 1998. It was bettered by a prequel that also came out on the PS1 but this remains a classic.
There is no getting away from its age & that stealth games have been hugely improved since then but for what Tenchu gives it is a worthwhile game. One that offers replay-ability thanks to the ranking system.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins