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Tenchu: Time of the Assassins PSP

Published by SEGA
Developed by From Software
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £34.99

Tenchu: Time of the Assassins, an introduction.

Tenchu games have been popular for years but I have to admit I haven't played one before. Doing a little bit of research shows me that series has appeared on quite a few formats over the years and that its stealth, ninja-flavoured action has, for the most part, been well received by both critics and gamers. In fact it appears that the Tenchu series was one of the first stealth action series arriving just before Metal Gear Solid and Thief: The Dark Project.

What's the game about?

Like the previous games in the series, Tenchu: Time of the Assassins, is set in a mythical feudal Japan. The game includes five playable characters (although one is initially unavailable) and each character has their own missions. There's the legendary swordsman and the leader of the Azuma school - Rikymaru, Ayame - a highly skilled ninja, Tesshu - a doctor by day  and assassin by night and finally there's Rin – a young, seemingly innocent girl who has grown up around ninjas. The game consists of a Story Mode, a Level Select mode, a Mission Builder and a Multiplayer mode. There is also a Tutorial and Encyclopaedia section.

What's good about the game?

You may have had a quick glance at the following paragraph and thought that the game is a total disaster. However, that's not the case and it certainly has its positive aspects. First of all the missions in the game have been kept fairly short to make them more suitable for playing when you're on your travels. A Mission Builder has been included and it's actually quite impressive allowing you to build missions for both single and multiplayer gaming. The game's official website has a variety of missions you can download and play and it's a fair bet that many user built missions will appear on various websites in the future, which adds to the longevity of the game. Unlike several PSP games I could mention the frame rate in the game always remains fairly constant. It's also good that each of the playable characters has their own missions as this actually makes it worthwhile using all of the characters on offer. You can change your weapons quickly during the heat of the battle. Remember how Sony made a big thing of this with regards to Genji 2 during E3 this year? Well it can be done here too. Multiplayer offers Versus and Co-op modes (via ad hoc connection), we can't really comment on this though as two copies of the game are required in order to play the multiplayer modes. It's good to see multiplayer modes offered in a game of this type though.

What's not so good about the game?

Unfortunately there are numerous problems with Tenchu: Time of the Assassins. What you'll notice almost immediately is that the draw distance is quite poor and prevents you from seeing in front of you as much as you need to in a game of this type. However, this is far from being the biggest problem. The main problem is the rather awkward camera which makes the game more frustrating than it should be. Without a second analogue stick to control the camera you have to press the L button to pull the camera back into position. The camera has a tendency to go awry just when you don't need it to and this makes the whole stealth process far more challenging. In fact, you'll choose to directly attack your opponents (when they aren't too numerous) to avoid faffing around with camera. Character movement is carried out with the analogue stick and once again the PSP analogue stick lets us down as it's simply not precise enough. It's difficult trying to keep your character from running (when you're not holding down the R button to go into stealth mode) and this is rather annoying in a game of this type.

How does it look?

Tenchu: Time of the Assassins certainly looks OK. The character models are respectable enough but if I had to complain I would say most of the environmental objects in the levels look far too angular and the textures for most objects are rather on the bland side. As we've already mentioned the camera definitely has issues and makes the whole stealth process feel like a chore. Load times aren't bad for a PSP game (compared to some PSP games we've played the load times in Tenchu are actually quite good).

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Stealth games always have the potential to be a complete disaster for deaf gamers with the necessity to hear approaching or nearby enemies. Thankfully Tenchu: Time of the Assassins isn't bad at all in this respect. The game is subtitled. Missions begin with vertically scrolling text that sets the scene for the current mission. Dialogue in the cutscenes is subtitled. This dialogue isn't colour-coded and doesn't have the name (or a picture) of the person who is speaking but for the most part this won't cause any problems. During missions, comments from nearby enemies are not subtitled which is unfortunate but not really problematic because of the Presence Meter. The Presence Meter (displayed on the bottom left of the screen) displays colour-coded icons to alert you to enemies. The icons will notify you if your character can sense an enemy, if your character can sense an enemy is watching, if your character can sense an enemy is alert and if your character can sense an enemy is intending to kill. The Presence Meter is a nice touch and does make the game more accessible for deaf gamers. We mentioned earlier that the game does offer a tutorial (the Mission Builder comes with a text tutorial too) and this is a text only tutorial which, of course, is fine for deaf gamers.

Final thoughts.

It's all too common to come across games that could have potentially been much better. Unfortunately Tenchu: Time of the Assassins is one such game. The missions are too short, the camera annoying and the draw distance is very poor and these three problems combine to turn all but the most loyal Tenchu fans away in disappointment. This is a pity because when you play the game you can see the potential for a really good game. Had the camera been sorted out (admittedly the decision by Sony to furnish the PSP with only one analogue stick makes life difficult for developers of 3D action titles), had the draw distance been good and the missions more lengthy we might have had a game here that would have been far more appealing. Judging from the reviews I've read of previous Tenchu titles it's fair to say this isn't one of the better titles in the series and that's unfortunate because with the huge disappointment of Splinter Cell: Essentials PSP owners really need a good stealth title but sadly this isn't it.

Overall Game Rating: 5.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

(Click the letter or here for details)

It may sound a little clichéd but Tenchu: Time of Assassins is definitely a game for Tenchu fans only. That's not to say it will please every fan of the series but that fans of the series will be rather more forgiving of the game's numerous problems.