Jeremy Jastrzab
06 Jul, 2006

Tenchu: Time of the Assassins Review

PSP Review | Who turned out the lights?
Believe it or not, before the resurrection of the Metal Gear series in the form of Metal Gear Solid, there came a different kind of stealth action game. Feudal Japanese ninja stealth and action in the form of Tenchu was originally released a few weeks before Snake’s return and even though it never received the same accolades, it did manage to find a loyal group of followers. Four console titles down the track, players found that the games struggled to evolve with the times, with clunky controls, poor camera and archaic design issues getting in the way of potentially enjoyable experiences. Having being kept in Japan for quite a while before this PAL release, Tenchu: Time of the Assassins gets an English release on the PSP.

Tenchu: Time of the Assassins doesn’t really have a stand-alone story. The story mode is split between the four of the main characters in the series, Rikimaru, Ayame, Rin and Tesshu. Each character has their own little story line that continues the series lineage and character development. Within each storyline, there are a handful of missions for each character. Players who have spent time with the previous titles will have a much easier time understanding what’s going on. There aren’t many cutscenes, as most things are told through talking heads and written dialog. There is even a fifth character that is unlocked once the rest have been completed.

As satisfying as ever?

As satisfying as ever?
The move for Tenchu to the PSP has brought with it a few positives, but it seems that for each one of these, there is a negative to go with it. First of all, the game plays out a lot like “Tenchu light”. Where as the console versions had missions that could last half-an-hour and over, the most that your likely to spend on a mission here is fifteen minutes. It makes for some decent portable gaming and you can generally avoid to frustrations that came from the lack of checkpoints in the previous games. The objective of most missions remains the same – perform an assassination or even several. Sometimes, you’ll get an objective that requires you to follow without being seen or simply get to a point on the map. Either way, the objectives are clearly stated before the mission and given the micronised nature of most levels, they aren’t too difficult to complete. Well, in most cases. For anyone who has played a Tenchu game, the setup will be quite familiar and they should jump into the game fairly quickly and easily. For the rest, there is a written tutorial that tells you how things work.

The missions are actually played out in a much simpler manner now. Where as you still have some openness and choices to poison guards and hide their bodies, for the most part, these actions are not necessary. The only really necessary action will be the signature “stealth kills”. They’re quite simple to pull off. Either sneak upon an enemy while holding the R button and strike them or get them while jumping from a roof. There are other methods but these are the main methods you’ll use. They need a bit of precision to pull off but in general, it seems that the developers have allowed for some lenience. You have the “Ki” meter to help you as well. It will indicate how close you are to an enemy or how knowledgeable they are of your presence. At times, it’s a tad ambiguous but it is useful none the less.

At its core, Tenchu: Time of the Assassins can provide a very enjoyable experience that will most certainly appeal to Tenchu fans. However, as with most of the other Tenchu games, there are some major flaws that get in the way. These are mainly pertained to the controls, camera and the combat. The problem with the controls is that they are too loose. For a game that rewards precisely timed actions, it’s difficult to comprehend that the controls make this much more difficult than it ought to be. The analog nub on the PSP is too sensitive, making precise movement extremely difficuly and the lock-on is too erratic and imprecise. Essentially, it’s the same as in all previous Tenchu games.

The whole crew is here.

The whole crew is here.
The control problems are compounded by the camera and combat issues. The camera tries to be helpful, such as automatically peering down when you’re at a roofs edge but it simply has too many limitations. You often need to resort to going into stealth mode (R button), then holding the L button to allow you to look around. Even with this and the “ki” meter, detecting and finding enemies is made more cumbersome than it should be. That and the camera often leaves the player severely disorientated and will leave in poor positions. In terms of the combat, why it has yet to be overhauled and fixed up, we won’t know but combined with the camera, it is the worst part of the game. You are very heavily encouraged to stick with stealth because getting into a fight is simply awful. Sure, early enemies are easy enough but as you get further into the game, the enemies are much tougher and you’re pretty much screwed if there is more than one enemy or if you’re in a tight space. The combat system simply isn’t equipped to handle it, again, just like in previous Tenchu. It really is crying out for an overhaul.

One addition that has been made to this PSP version is that of a mission builder. It happens to be very deep and engaging, for anyone willing to put in the effort. You can virtually recreate any level from the game or even make your own. There are a ton of options that all allow you to make some quite intriguing levels. From there, you can spread it out to friends or (like some have done) post them in the form of save-files on the Internet. It is an intriguing option that other games should be looking at in the future. Given the abbreviated nature of the missions, anyone who is able to get the hang of the mission builder or find others to play the co-op and versus multiplayer modes will have their life-span with the game significantly extended. However, since the flaws still carry over, it will depend on how well the player can accept these problems.

The audio and visual components of Tenchu: Time of the Assassins are very disappointing. Visually, the game is heavily hampered by a veil of pitch black that extends an equivalent of five meters around the character. On top of the camera and control problems, you’re hampered because you can barely see anything in front of you, or around you - making enemies even harder to detect. Not too mention that everything looks like it’s out of a PS1 game. Models, animations, texturing, it’s all from a previous generation and the game is even hampered by tearing, clipping and a host of other problems. The scenery can be pretty bad, as you’re areas of towering block structures and geometric shapes that look like they can be found in a young child’s toy chest. Thankfully, the style and presentation are acceptable and the frame-rate is decent.

Wow, you can actually see something here.

Wow, you can actually see something here.
The audio isn’t too bad. The sound track is varied but pretty much ripped straight out of other Tenchu games. The voicing is limited and it’s done OK, but it isn’t helped by some terribly dull dialog. The sound effects are decent and get job done. However, neither the audio or visual components come together well enough to allow you to use your “senses” when planning a stealth kill. Often you’re going in blind or deaf, because it is too difficult to actually see or accurately hear exactly what’s going on.

Tenchu: Time of the Assassins is a package with a lot of options and potential for fun. Long time fans of the series will no doubt find some enjoyment in this game. It’s been tailored for portable usage and this part of the game’s development has been done well as the short missions are suited for on-the-go play. Unfortunately, it suffers from the exact same problems that have been keeping the game in the shadows for a little too long now. The controls and camera are too far on the wrong side of average and the combat is terrible but now the game is hampered by visual and audio deficiencies. Given that the PSP can do better, it’s disappointing. In the very least, the game does provide something of an indicator for how a different stealth game may go on the PSP. And it’s indicating good things.
The Score
Tenchu: Time of the Assassins for the PSP is just as it is on the consoles, a game for the fans. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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