Blades out as we're hands on with Tenchu: Dark Secret
The ninjas are coming to DS, but how sharp is their cutting-edge?
While Nintendo has moved away from its overly kid-friendly stance in recent years, it was still a surprise to find Tenchu: Dark Secret tucked away on its E3 stand. Ninjas aren't well known for their child-friendly rating killing techniques, and if there's one thing the Tenchu series is about, it's ninjas and their killing techniques.
And even running on a cute DS Lite, Tenchu: Dark Secret proved to be a spiky customer.
Obviously this was partially due to the subject matter, as you had to sneak around the two demo levels, slashing at enemy guards with your blades or dropping traps into their paths to disembowel them. (In the full game, your major aim (a moral one, of course) is to protect a princess, whose powerful husband is trying to knock her off.)
But also, in my hands-on playtest, I got the impression that this sort of sneak'em-up might not work too well on the DS.
For example, compared to the tight perspective the Tenchu series usually employs (most recently on the PSP's Tenchu: Time of the Assassins), Dark Secret on DS adopts a topdown view on the action.
Considering the DS' lack of 3D grunt this makes complete sense, but it undeniably alters the 'Tenchu-experience' being offered. The quality of the graphics were still quite blocky, regardless – a pretty game this ain't – and the gameplay wasn't helped by a flighty camera, which never seemed to be pointing exactly where you wanted it to point.
More positively, you can gain extra tactical information from the DS' touchscreen. This is used to display a map, which shows the position and orientation of any guards – useful for any ninja, although you'll definitely need sharp eyes to work out exactly which direction they're facing.
The game has other plus points too. For instance, you'll be able to fashion your own ninja weapons by collecting raw materials such as metal, bamboo and rope as you progress through the missions. This item-based part of the game will be linked into support for the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You'll be able to go online to buy, sell and trade items with other players – some of the materials you'll need to make the most special weapons being hard to find in-game.
Nintendo also says there will be adhoc multiplayer modes, but it hasn't confirmed whether you'll be able to ninja up across the Wi-Fi Connection. (In single-player there will be 40 missions, broken down into portable-friendly five-to-ten minute chunks.)
All in all, I'm yet to be convinced that Tenchu: Dark Secret is going to work. Still, with its release not expected until the end of the year, there's plenty of time for it to sneak up on us. Click 'Track It!' to see the bloody conclusion.