The very first PS1 game I owned was ‘Metal Gear Solid’. I’m actually surprised that the PS1 wasn’t a crushing disappointment from that point on. I set the bar so high that…hmm…the only jokes that came to mind were a few shitty ones about marijuana and a REALLY offensive one about Malaysian Airlines flight 370, so…let’s just say that I set a high bar for quality. The mix of thrilling gameplay and absorbing story flipped something in my mind. No more was a bunch of random levels glued together going to cut it. I needed to know HOW my machine gun toting badass got from the fire level to the snow level This bullshit will not stand! Fire MELTS snow. I’m not a fucking moron game, I know how snow works!
After beating ‘Metal Gear Solid’ over and over again, I needed something new. ‘Silent Hill’ got me through January (an article for another time), but it wasn’t enough. I still had the itch for a stealth game. But ‘Metal Gear Solid’ was so unique that finder an older game similar to it would be like going back in time to the Cretaceous era and finding that Hitler beat you there. If you don’t understand that analogy, then don’t worry, no one else does either. Not even me and I wrote it!
Months later, I found what I was looking for.
Here’s what I remember:
My first impression of ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’ was that is was ‘Metal Gear Solid’ but with ninjas. I don’t know why I thought that or where I got that impression, but it’s what I thought. In fact, the first time I sat down to play the game I thought “Huh, this doesn’t play like Metal Gear” and STOPPED PLAYING. I didn’t even get through the tutorial level and I quit because of a bullshit arbitrary reason. I’m so glad I grew up enough to gleefully play games like a child again.
When I finally played it without being an asshole, it still felt clunky. The camera wasn’t perfect and the controls weren’t the tightest, but the first time I slit someone’s throat and their head fell off, I stopped giving a shit. This game was cartoonishly violent. Literally. I remember these individual blobs of bright red blood gushing out of every wound. Whether I’d admit it or not at the time, this is something I wanted.
Except for the tutorial level, I only remember stage one. I know I got further, but by the ghost of a dinosaur riding Hitler, I can’t remember them. It takes place at night and you have a target in one of the houses. The level opens up and you have access to the entire area. A grappling hook could take you to the roof tops, which was one of the ways you could enter the house. You were mostly safe on the rooftops, so I’d use the cover to lob bombs or smoke grenades at passing guards. I’d kill some, but it was easier to just go past them, except for when I’d get stuck on the lip of the roof and fall back down. That was annoying.
Other than that, all I remember is snow. Maybe there’s a snowy level, but every time I try to remember it, the memory turns into ‘Silent Hill’. It’s kind of like if you start singing The ‘Indiana Jones’ theme and it somehow becomes the ‘Superman’ theme. Try it. I bet it’ll happen.
How does it hold up?
In a strange turn of events, everything I remember is correct…it’s just…this game is awful guy. Really, really, awful.
First off, tank controls. Other games manage to use them effectively, hell other NINJA GAMES managed to use them effectively, but here they’re terrible. The camera is too close as well, making it impossible to see if enemies are near you and that includes looking at the ground when you’re running across rooftops. It’s hard to react like a stealthy ninja when you hear someone spot you and you have to slowly spin in place to see where they are, by which point they’ve already begun to attack, then slowly turn so you can run away to get your bearings. Determining whether to fight or run away is an interesting game play tactic in other games. In ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’, it’s more of a decision of whether you’d like a headache or a migraine.
Fighting enemies one on one is a hassle. Now, this is a stealth game and I get that fighting enemies one on one isn’t what I’m supposed to do, but when I need to close the distance and pressing the stealth button crouches me and move me at the pace of a gazelle with two broken legs, they’re going to hear me and I’m going to have to fight them. When the time comes for me to fight, I’d like for my blows to land. Half the time, I miss the enemy completely (still in range mind you) and end up behind them. This forces me to slowly turn around (the camera doing whatever the fuck it wants at this point, getting stuck in walls and doing everything in it’s power to NOT show me the enemy) and try again. Sometimes they wait for me like a bad kung fu movie, sometimes they don’t. By the way, if you ever play this game, you block by pressing down. This is not in the tutorial (which is actually just a short level), nor is it in the controls menu. You just have to figure it out for yourself because fuck you, that’s why.
This game got decent reviews when it came out, which I probably agreed with back then as well, but it does not hold up like it’s peers. The controls suck, the camera sucks, the fighting sucks, it’s dark, and the voice acting…the “Engrish” they use makes Mickey Rooney in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ look progressive. The best part about it was that the missions to each level varied, but if I hate playing that actual game, then who gives a shit. ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’ may have been new and great back in 1998, but our bar for quality wasn’t that high yet. It’s like when you learn how to cook. You’ll eat what you make and like it because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing yet.