TENCHU : DARK SECRET / Activision / Nintendo DS

Oh lawd, Tenchu, what have they done with my baby?

I loved the first three Tenchu games for the first two Playstation systems. This game bears only the most superficial resemblance to those. It is a crappy, half-assed knock-off made for a quick grab at cash, and it sucks in just about every way possible.

You play as Rikimaru and Ayame yet again, in some confused and threadbare story about rescuing Princess PeiPei or whatever once more. The game structure is fundamentally the same, but just about everything good about both the gameplay and the presentation of the original games has been sucked out here, leaving only a hollow shell.

The first thing that hits you is that the graphics are an ugly, blurry polygonal mess. Rikimaru is the grey blob, the guards are the reddish blobs - now go kill! The perspective is now fixed from the top-down, in a style very similar to that of Metal Gear Solid's overhead view, just without the ability to move the camera or go into close-ups (it reminded me most of Metal Gear : Ghost Babel for the GBC, although this game is actually worse).

The grappling hook was a fundamental part of the fun of the earlier Tenchu games, and here, it is completely gone. Instead, Riki and Ayame now have super-ups and just jump on top of buildings in a mighty leap. The guards view system in this game is so janky, however, you usually don't even need to bother. Guards patrol in some small, predictable route (usually just walking a circle around a building) and don't see or hear you unless you jump right into their faces. When they DO detect you, however, you enter "battle mode" very suddenly and without any transitional cues (which can be confusing if they spotted you while a building or something was blocking your view of your sprite) and a bunch of other guards just magically teleport out of nowhere to surround you. Combat is very twitchy and jumpy, and the perspective and crap graphics make it very hard to tell if you are accurately landing or blocking hits.

Another major excision - Noriyuki Asakura's beautiful, haunting music has been replaced by some generic crap by lawd knows who.

Stealth kills are also silly in this one - no close-up for a reward, instead the guard collapses with just a kind of a "burp" sound. Pump 'em full of soda, Stealth Assassins!

So pretty much everything that made the original games great is either totally cut out or pissed on here. All this game will do is make you angry that they had the grapes to charge $50 for it at release. Avoid.

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