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Tenchu: Stealth Assassins retrospective: Ninja stealth on PlayStation

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'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' pack shot

First Released: 1998 (PlayStation)
Now Available On: N/A

Assassins have always been a great fit for gaming - just look at the level of hype the unveiling of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag has generated. It was a similar story back in 1998 when Tenchu: Stealth Assassins sneaked onto the scene and took stealth gameplay to dizzying new heights.

Developed by Acquire and published by Activision in the West, Tenchu was a ninja-themed offering that drew inspiration from feudal Japan and the ninjitsu martial art. It took both sources very seriously, breaking new ground in realistic combat and incorporating elements of Japanese mythology.

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation



The game took place from the third-person perspective and emphasised stealth at every turn, encouraging players to use their wits, speed and cunning to tackle obstacles. Ninjas have always been commonplace in video gaming, but Tenchu was the first game that forced you to think like one.

Players had the choice between two ninjas from the Azuma clan - Rikimaru and Ayame - both of whom possessed different attributes. The former was the stronger of the two, but was slower, while the latter was more nimble and had a wider range of combos to deliver.

The storyline involved the pair serving the heroic Lord Gohda to uphold justice around his province. They were pitted against the evil sorcerer Lord Mei-Oh and his demonic warrior OniKage, who sought to wreak havoc in Lord Gohda's territory.

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation



Tenchu was a liberating experience for the player, who was equipped with a Batman-esque grappler hook and spent most of their time running freely across rooftops and taking out foes with a surreptitious Katana blade to the back. Moving around undetected was the name of the game, but there were one-on-one combat situations too.

The game excelled in this area thanks to the developers' efforts to represent the real-life art of ninjitsu, and the work of motion-capture actors Sho Kosugi and his son Kane. Tenchu may have incorporated fantasy elements, but it was the level of realism on offer that made it one of the PlayStation's trailblazers.

Tenchu was an atmospheric experience that painted an unsettling picture of feudal Japan. Setting all of the levels at night heightened this feeling, though this decision was also made to compensate for some of the PlayStation's technical shortcomings. Scenery pop-up would have proven to be a problem if the developers didn't have a blanket of darkness to hide it beneath.

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation



Several alternate versions of Tenchu and expansions to the game were released following its successful debut. Tenchu: Shinobi Gaisen was a director's cut of sorts that came equipped with a level editor, allowing players to create their own missions. It later came bundled with a bonus disc containing 100 of the best levels created by Japanese players.

Tenchu received strong reviews upon release, with many media outlets hailing its technological innovations, originality and tactically-rich gameplay. Its success paved the way for three sequels over the years and a numerous spinoffs, but the series has struggled to recapture its glory days during the PlayStation era.

Original sequel Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins received critical acclaim, yet the franchise found itself on a gradual downward spiral from this point onwards, although 2008's Tenchu: Shadow Assassins for Nintendo Wii was well-received by some.

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation

'Tenchu: Stealth Assassins' on PlayStation



Despite a few misfires since the late '90s, there's boundless potential for a Tenchu revival. The phenomenal success of the Assassin's Creed series proves that gamers still have an insatiable appetite for all things stealth, so perhaps the next generation of consoles will hold better fortunes for the Azuma clan.

Do you have any fond memories of Tenchu: Stealth Assassins? Post a comment below.

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