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Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins
Score: 94%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Acquire
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Stealth/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Sad but true fact: the PlayStation is showing its age. It just can't keep up with Tenchu 2's sweeping vistas. The first game took the easier way out, setting the game in the Land of Eternal Night and oftentimes inside buildings or enclosures. Tenchu 2 tries to go for the sweeping epic worlds, and as such, the graphical output of the bitty-box we know and love is definitely lacking the output the game needs.

That's not to say Tenchu 2 doesn't look nice. It does. But the perspective correction problems, view distance of only a few tens of feet, and occasionally choppy framerate show that Tenchu 2 pushes the system perhaps a bit farther than it was ever meant to be pushed. The character models are wonderfully articulate, and their moves are fantastic. It seems the sacrifice went to the world instead of to the characters.

The music in Tenchu 2 is considerably more upbeat than Tenchu, which may or may not be a good thing. It's all in your taste. I prefer the music from the first game -- I still know every tune by heart from playing that game so much -- but it's certainly not bad tunes. The voice acting, on the other hand, is pretty, er, pitiful. It's not quite Resident Evil, but it's dangerously close. The guard voices are good enough, however, to make you not mind that you hear them a whole lot as you play. "What?!"

Tenchu was never about graphics and sound, however. The original game did something that no other ninja game had ever done -- presented you with something that's a hell of a lot closer to how ninjas were than most video games. It was all about stealth and quick kills and saving the innocent. That game still brings back memories of crazy kills, rooms full of completely silent folks for fear of messing up the one controlling the game, and an experience that's a touch too short. Tenchu 2 repairs that one flaw, and although it throws another one or two into the broth, the final result is a can't-miss game.

Tenchu 2 is -big-. After playing through the game with both characters (who have unique storylines, by the way), you open up a third ninja to play with. And when that's all done, you can break out the level editor and start designing your own levels. In other words, there's not a chance in hell that you're going to get tired of playing Tenchu 2 any time soon. That is, unless the game plays poorly... it doesn't.

Once again, stealth is often the only way to make it through a level without dying gruesomely. You'll be grappling to the tops of buildings and hiding behind walls and at the bottoms of hills to keep yourself from being noticed, and then coming in for the stealth kill. A large amount of blood usually consummates the death, but somehow it doesn't feel gratuitous. You have your ninja armory, with caltrops and rice and a few new things, like dust to throw in people's eyes and bottles of air to sip underwater.

Ah, yes. Underwater. In Tenchu 2, you can find yourself swimming underwater, bringing a new angle to the game. Unfortunately, swimming itself is crazy loud, so you'll often want to find some other way to do it. Everyone and anyone can hear you splashing about.

You can also drag dead bodies around, to keep people from seeing them and getting scared, and you can pick up items off of the bodies. The exact spot to grab when you're moving bodies around is often easy to hit, but sometimes it's unexpectedly hard. And it's usually rather unnecessary -- you tend to kill guards at a faraway spot anyway, so that nobody notices it when you do.

Combat itself is still as hard as it was in Tenchu, but I've started considering that a feature instead of a bug. Combat -is- difficult in real life, and trivializing it in a game like Tenchu 2 would be something of a weakness. Sure, it'd be cool, but you wouldn't feel as proud of yourself when you best that boss. Speaking of bosses, Tenchu 2 has a whole slew of them. Some are easy, others are very hard, and they'll all keep you on your toes. You'll want to save most of your items for the boss fights -- you shouldn't be going around throwing grenades at the normal folks anyway.

Tenchu 2 is definitely non-trivial. A lot of peoples' beef with the original game is that it was too hard, and to be honest, Tenchu 2 doesn't really relent all that much. You're going to have to be very, very careful, sneaking around as much as possible and getting your butt kicked by a boss, only to start over at the beginning of the level. Some people find it frustrating, but I find it challenging. The game is varied enough that running (er, skulking) through a level for the 10th or 20th time doesn't bother me in the least. Be prepared, though, for an ungentle boss curve. You Have Been Warned.

Game Mechanics:
There are a lot of buttons and button combinations to remember in Tenchu 2, but the game thankfully puts you through your paces before you start to do anything serious. This shows you the majority of the important controls, and you can always look the rest up in the instruction book. The game itself handles like a dream, and if anything, the short viewing distance only lends more to the excitement of the game. What's around that corner? Who knows, but you'd better be careful finding out.

Tenchu 2 is not perfect, but it's as close as you're going to get when it comes to this type of game. The first one was unique and excellent, and this one just builds on that. The things it adds are really just tweaks to the game, some unnecessary and some quite nice. Originality aside, however, what it really boils down to this: Is Tenchu 2 enjoyable? Oh, yes. Should you buy it? Hell yeah.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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