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'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' will teach you the way of the ninja

Ayame prepares to battle a guard   

November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 2:45 PM EST

By CNN Interactive Associate Editor John Robinson

(CNN) -- It is well past midnight in feudal Japan and you are a ninja on a mission to defeat the enemies of your master, the honorable Lord Gohda. You must be sneaky and efficient because stealth is the key to victory in this game from Activision.

Available for Sony Playstation, "Tenchu: Stealth Assassins" combines elements of a fighting game with those of an adventure or RPG title. But it differs from both genres in that you spend most of your time trying to avoid conflict unless it is necessary to complete the mission. Even so, conflict is around every corner, and you must get the enemy before he gets you in order to survive.

You begin by choosing from one of two ninjas available to play. Rikimaru, a 25-year-old male, is stronger but slower than Ayame, a 21-year-old female. Rikimaru is armed with a katana and Ayame has two small swords. Both ninjas are equipped with a grappling hook that will help you scale walls and climb onto the rooftops of buildings.

Many other items are available to use including shuriken (throwing stars), grenades, smoke bombs and poison rice (used to paralyze guards and guard dogs). If you do particularly well on a given level, better items, like the ability to breathe fire, will become available.

Each of the 10 missions in "Tenchu" are set in dimly lit 3D environments filled with beautifully rendered Japanese architechture and landscapes. Your goal is to navigate these environments without being noticed. If you approach an enemy unnoticed, you can finish him off with one swift and deadly blow. If an enemy spots you, you can either run away or expect a difficult battle.

The key to remaining unnoticed is the stealth button. Nearly everything you do in "Tenchu" revolves around the use of this action. When you press the stealth button, your ninja will crouch or flatten out against a nearby wall and lessen your chances of being seen.

Waiting to attack an unsuspecting enemy   

Impatience is a good way to create a lot of problems for yourself, because making a lot of noise fighting an enemy will cause more enemies to appear out of the shadows.

A meter on the screen, called the Ki meter, lets you know whether you have been spotted or if it's safe to move in for the kill. Once you get the hang of how to use the stealth button and the Ki meter in harmony, the game takes on a whole new aura.

The majority of the levels in "Tenchu" are assasination or reconnaisance missions. At the end of each level awaits a boss that may take a very long time to defeat.

The action takes place mostly from a third-person perspective, with the camera angles shifting based on what your ninja is doing. The shifting camera angles can make fighting difficult, because it is sometimes hard to figure out where you are in relation to the enemy.

Aside from that, controlling the ninja as well as using weapons and special items is relatively easy to learn.

One of the best features of "Tenchu" is the original Japanese soundtrack, which does a great job of setting the dark mood of the game and is admittedly relaxing.

Ambient sound effects, like the rush of a stream or the yawning of a nearby guard, are subtle and effective. There's a neat option that allows you to play any of the music tracks without actually playing the game.

Graphics are very well done for the most part although sometimes a little pixelated when you get close to an object or a wall. The action sequences can get choppy at times, especially if there are a large number of characters on the screen. But these small flaws in no way take away from the playability of this game.

On the plus side, great attention has been given to small details such as the movement of a geisha or the white foam of a waterfall. The black and white opening movie is particularly impressive.

It should be noted that "Tenchu" received a mature rating from the ESRB and is not intended for children or young adults. It can be a very violent game, with copious amounts of bloodletting in the fighting and death sequences. In addition, there isn't an option to turn off or lessen the gore, as some other games offer.

Because the game only has 10 levels, it might seem like there isn't a whole lot of longevity in this title. That is not the case with "Tenchu." You will want to play it over and over again, if only to perfect your ninja skills and attain the special items. Playstation gamers will appreciate "Tenchu" as a unique and well-executed game that also happens to be a whole lot of fun to play.

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