There are many more Stealth Kill options this time around in Tenchu Z, which really helps to make the user feel more like a silent assassin with a slick repertoire of smooth skills. For instance there are times when bloodshed is actually detrimental to advancing in Tenchu Z, thus non-lethal combat is stressed. A noisy innocent bystander can still ruin the parade, so they can be silenced with a non-lethal choke hold. Of course those that want blood can draw it in many new ways with the revamped Stealth Kill system, including fancy unsheathed sword take-downs and flamboyant yet graceful slashes that off enemies with cinematic flair. Combo Stealth Kills are now possible if the conditions are right, and it’s even possible to maim through rice paper, from around a corner, or directly off of the ceiling of a room. Sweet.
Tenchu Z is primarily a one player mission-style game. It’s quasi-progressive, but the weak story elements and editing make it feel more like a Dynasty Warriors style affair of unrelated tasks. The ability to change the PC’s appearance in a create-a-ninja area is a nice touch, but the options are somewhat weak and the graphics fail to help it seem cooler to customize than it really is. It’s also possible to choose a partner-in-crime (male or female), but this again is hampered by too basic of a system of modification being employed. Sure, things get better as gold is acquired and new customization options become available, but we could have easily done without this feature and still enjoyed the core Tenchu Z gameplay. We do, however, dig the four player co-op System Link and Xbox Live action, as they help to Tenchu Z feel less like its predecessors’ standard, loner-style romps on the rooftops.
The gameplay of Tenchu Z is enjoyable for those that love the pace of a stealth game, but odds are you’ll have to work to look past some things in order to thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. One of these hurdles happens to be the graphics. Although there are a few decent instances of texturing and general artistry, Tenchu Z is not up to the normal Xbox 360 graphical standard. Clipping is a common occurrence, character animations are entirely too stiff (and still no sign of the circular body rotation leaving us) and background modeling far too basic. Even cut-scene visuals do little to make one of the most interesting periods in history seem enthralling.
When not fighting the graphics, you’ll be battling a chunky control scheme that won’t make many gamers feel swift or deadly. The aiming system for weapons is still hard to use and sword fights usually turn into games of trying to trick the A.I. into a loop rather than games of blade skill. You’ll also find this A.I. is easy to trick, and normally isn’t as reactive to Ki meter warnings as the H.U.D. suggests.
Surprisingly, Tenchu Z comes off “chunky” in general; the antithesis of what a ninja game should feel like- sleek and efficient. The concept is still golden, but the actual gameplay mechanics haven’t changed enough to really take advantage of such great material. There’s still a fair amount of entertainment value here, however, but be prepared to sift through some previous-gen-feeling moments to find those nuggets o’ ninja gold.