Though not a wholly original experience, Tenchu: Return from Darkness is worth checking out for Tenchu fanatics or Xbox owners who haven’t played the PS2 game.
Tenchu: Return from Darkness represents the first Tenchu game on the Xbox. Unfortunately, for Xbox fans, this isn’t an entirely new game. Instead, it’s a port of the PS2’s Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven. That’s not to say that Wrath of Heaven was a bad game, it just would have been nice for Xbox gamers to get a brand-new Tenchu.
This game is also doomed to suffer comparisons to another recent Xbox ninja title, a little game known as Ninja Gaiden. These comparisons aren’t very worthwhile though. Other than the profession of their main characters, these games have virtually nothing in common. Therefore, when considering Tenchu: Return from Darkness, you should completely disregard any urge to compare it to Ninja Gaiden.
In Return from Darkness, players choose to assume the role of one of three playable characters (two being immediately selectable, one is unlockable). Regardless of the character chosen, the game is primarily the same. Players go through the equivalent missions with each character; they just see the events from their chosen character’s perspective. Each of the playable characters is slightly different. They have different weapons, as well as different strengths and weaknesses. For example, Rikimaru is stronger than Ayame, but she makes up for this by being quicker. It’s really just a matter of personal preference that determines which character you will enjoy more.
The game is divided into missions and the story is mainly told through the intro sequences before each mission. These are spoken sequences, read by a somewhat ominous voice that sets an eerie and serious tone to the game. They are very well done, and set the mood for the game exceptionally well considering they are merely audio clips. There are also some short cut scenes through the game, which help progress the story.
While the story is fairly entertaining, it’s not very deep and mainly serves to set up each mission. Most of the time, players simply have to get from the beginning of the level to the end, where they will then have to fight a boss. Most of the enjoyment in Tenchu: Return from Darkness comes from what stands between you and the goal: enemies.
The Tenchu series has always relied primarily on stealth, and this game is no different. Players are highly encouraged to sneak up on any and all enemies they encounter. Using stealth and remaining unseen not only makes the game easier, but makes it a lot more fun too. When you can successfully sneak up to an enemy, a simple press of the X button rewards you with a violent, bloody, morbidly satisfying stealth kill. Depending on the position of the player in relationship to the enemy, different stealth kills are performed. The stealth kill you receive for attacking from the enemy’s side is different than the one you receive if you attack from behind, for example.
Performing a stealth kill also rewards players with a Japanese Kanji character which fills a meter near the bottom of the screen. When you fill all nine of the Kanji, you are rewarded with a new ability. There’s quite a variety of abilities to earn too. Some are as simple as an extended combo, while some are as diverse as ninja camouflage ability. These abilities, and the adrenaline rush from successfully performing stealth kills, push players to kill every enemy without being seen.
Unfortunately, there’s one more thing that pushes players to perform stealth kills. That’s the fighting system. When you are forced into direct combat with an enemy, the game becomes much less enjoyable. The clunky controls, and sometimes awkward camera, cause for some fits of frustration and unwarranted deaths. Most normal enemies are weak enough that this isn’t too much of a problem, but when you’re forced to fend off multiple opponents, or some of the tougher bosses, these problems can become very frustrating. These are the same problems that were in the original PS2 game, so it’s pretty disappointing that they weren’t improved upon.
The most noticeable improvements that have been made opposed to Wrath of Heaven are the graphical upgrades. Return from Darkness looks significantly better than its PS2 sibling. For example, character models are more detailed and environments are somewhat sharper looking. Overall, the game simply looks a lot cleaner than it did on the PS2. All the trademark PS2 graphical problems (jaggies, flicker, etc.) have been removed. Unfortunately, for an Xbox game, it’s really not very impressive. You can definitely tell that this is a port, and not a game built from scratch to take full advantage of the power in Microsoft’s big black box.
The audio in the game is actually what has been improved the most. While Wrath of Heaven merely had stereo sound, Return from Darkness boasts in-game Dolby Digital. With the proper equipment this game sounds pretty good. The channel separation is adequate but not perfect, and there’s fairly solid subwoofer action. In the end though, there’s not really a whole lot going on behind you most of the time, so the surround sound support isn’t used to its full extent.
On top of the improved graphics and audio, there hasn’t been much added to what appeared on the PS2 more than a year ago. There are a couple of extra single player missions, which are a welcome addition to what is still a fairly short game. Xbox Live support has also been added, but is just an online version of the split screen multiplayer mode that’s already available. While the multiplayer modes are somewhat entertaining for something different, most people probably won’t enjoy it enough to actually make this much of a selling point. In the multiplayer missions, and versus mode, stealth seems to be nigh on impossible, which ruins the best part of this game. It’s a nice addition to have, but really isn’t anything special.
In the end, it’s hard to recommend Tenchu: Return from Darkness to anyone who’s already played Wrath of Heaven. Considering that you can easily pick that game up for $20, it’s hard to see anyone caring enough about the minor additions in Return of Darkness to drop a full $50. On the other hand, anyone that doesn’t have a PS2, and is looking for some ninja stealth action on the Xbox, should definitely check this game out. It’s a fun game hampered by a few problems that can usually be overlooked. If Ninja Gaiden has got you thirsting for more ninja goodness, or if you’re looking for a game that focuses more on ninja stealth than ninja action, then Tenchu: Return from Darkness could be just what you’re looking for.