Activision’s “Tenchu” series stood as the
benchmark for ninja-action games over the past few years. With its
stealthy gameplay mechanics and solid visuals, the franchise began
a following starting back on the original Playstation. However, the
latest installment, “Return from Darkness,” has two
major problems facing it: It was released after Tecmo’s
exceptional “Ninja Gaiden” and it’s a port of a
PS2 game released last year “Tenchu: Wrath of
Heaven.”

Ryan Nowak
Those cats were fast as lightning. (Courtesy of Activision)

“Return From Darkness” still maintains the stealth
elements that made the earlier games intriguing, and few major
changes have been made. There are initially two characters
selectable — Rikimaru and Ayama — each with a unique
storyline and some individual moves, which adds some replayability
to the game. As is the norm for the series, the stealth kills are
easily the highlight of the action. Ninjas can cling to the
ceiling, hide in the shadows and slit the throats of the enemies.
But gameplay feels like a tired retread.

The most glaring issue for “Return From Darkness” is
that it is just a slightly revamped version of “Wrath of
Heaven,” released in 2003 on the PS2. The game is ultimately
the same, from the storyline to the fighting mechanics. Worst of
all, the graphics are only moderately changed from the pixilated
PS2 images. This game is almost ugly to look at on the Xbox —
the characters are blocky, the backgrounds drab and the blood flows
way too freely. With a year to polish up the game for a more
powerful system, Activision should have been able to brush up the
graphics, in the very least.

The lone addition to this installment is the inclusion of an
online multiplayer mode. While the feature enables for a lot of
interesting deathmatches and cooperative gameplay, it seems to be
tacked on as an afterthought. Xbox Live is a feature that should be
utilized more often, but the single player game is so lacking
innovation that more time should have been spent at least creating
a new scenario.

“Tenchu” is no longer the only competent ninja game
on the market, so the developers cannot release half-hearted ports
and expect to sell millions of copies. “Wrath of
Heaven” was a good game in 2003, but its 2004 and a name
change isn’t enough to justify another purchase. Stick to
“Ninja Gaiden” and wait for an actual sequel to
“Tenchu.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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