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The rise and fall of Tenchu

Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on the PS1
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on the PS1
The lamentable Tenchu Z
The lamentable Tenchu Z
Though stealth games seem to be in a sort of decline of their own as the Metal Gear games add more action sequences and Splinter Cell moves in a direction more in-line with Assassin's Creed, tracing the path of Tenchu's decline from its humble beginnings on the PlayStation to the frustrating mess that was Tenchu Z on the 360 is a pretty sad endeavor.

Historically, video games have enjoyed a great wealth of titles starring ninjas, but most, like the Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi games, have relied on over-the-top action and martial arts combat. Released the same year as the original Metal Gear: Solid, but drawing heavily from gameplay developed in the 2D Metal Gear games, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was the first ninja game to allow players to feel like a true ninja assassin. Stealth gameplay has been featured in small doses in everything from Zelda games to survival horror, but Tenchu offered a quality of pure stealth gameplay that was second only to the MGS series and totally unique in its setting and atmosphere.

The series peaked with its third installment which was released on the PS2 as Wrath of Heaven and later on the XBOX as Return from Darkness. With the graphic power of the PS2, the game captured the essence of the PS1 games with tight controls, exciting stealth kills and a satisfying co-op mode.
Subsequent releases, including portable ones on the DS and PSP, have only served to disappoint fans of the originals with lazy programming, frustrating controls, pointless features like build-a-character and storylines that drift ever further away from the one established in the first 3 games.

In the time since Tenchu Z's release, franchise owner From Software has addressed the decline of the series and expressed a desire to put the game in the hands of different developers. This year, the release of Tenchu 4, developed for the Wii by Acquire, the company that delivered the original Japanese version of Stealth Assassins known as Dimensional Ninja Action Movie: Tenchu, will serve as the final test of whether this series, and possibly if pure stealth games as a whole, can survive in the current generation.