A ninja-school dropout.
Everybody wants to be a ninja, but no one seems to take into account the long nights spent in the trees, annoying teenage imitators, and pesky attack-shelves they'll have to deal with. Sure, from time to time ninjas get to flip out and kill people, but if they screw up they have to flip out and kill themselves. And that's a lot of pressure.
But now that Sega's Tenchu: Fatal Shadows has been released for the PS2, you aspiring ninjas can rejoice. No, the game won't make you stealthier or improve your aim with shuriken, but it will make committing seppuku easier because after playing for a couple hours you'll actually want to die.
Fatal Shadows is the second installment of the famous stealth ninja series to hit the PS2, and the fourth overall. However, the concept introduced in the original is still the same: enter the shadows and eliminate your enemies with vicious stealth kills. The next two sequels also managed to get this part right, but failed to introduce anything unique. We hoped that a new publisher might bring a new Tenchu, but Sega's take is all too familiar, if a little less functional than its predecessors.
If you've followed the series at all, you may be surprised to see that Rikimaru has been replaced by a kunoichi named Rin. In the story, Rin's ninja village gets torched and she isn't too happy about it, so she swears vengeance on those who wronged her and sets off on a whirlwind adventure to do them bodily harm. Along the way, Rin is joined by Ayame from the previous games. We were hoping that with two girl ninjas there would be some catty banter or yonic inventory windows, but instead the girls are strictly business.
Missions alternate between Ayame and Rin. While each mission is fairly straightforward, they do branch a bit here and there. There aren't different endings or profound decisions to be made, but at least the game isn't completely linear.
The heroines will use grappling hooks, poisoned rice balls and a bunch of other ninja toys to get their dirty work done. They also love their blades. Ayame uses her signature twin daggers, and Rin uses a big katana to relieve enemies of body parts. The majority of Fatal Shadow's gameplay involves sneaking up on foes and dispatching them with lightning fast stealth kills. Get close enough to an enemy and you'll be able to unleash one of your brutal spine-crushing, throat slitting one hit kills. You can even double up on the stealth kills if two enemies happen to be standing next to each other.
And roll you will because being spotted makes the situation even worse. Trying to stand and fight exposes more control issues. There is but one attack button and one block button to work with and strafing requires an extra button press. Using shuriken requires you to switch to first-person view and takes away your ability to move. The same holds true if you're trying to escape with the grappling hook. For highly trained ninja, these two are capable of shockingly little.
At least the AI is more artificial than intelligent or things would get really messy. Once you're spotted, all you'll need to do is backtrack around a few corners and your pursuit will promptly forget about you. Even worse, enemies get seriously confused if led too far from their original patrol.
In terms of visuals, Fatal Shadows remains behind the times. Both player models and environments lack detail. The result is a game that resembles something from the first wave of PS2 games.
The sounds are Fatal Shadows' best feature. Nothing is particularly offensive and you can switch the lackluster English dub to the more natural-sounding Japanese voice-over.
While bad control certainly discourages it, there is a bit of replay value to be had. Stealth kills result in dropped scrolls, which will unlock a variety of additional ninja tricks the heroines can use to defeat the enemy. You might also want to go back and try your hand at the branches of the story that you didn't get to the first time around. Just remember, branching paths are always welcome, but in Fatal Shadows, every turn is a wrong turn.
It's unfortunate that Fatal Shadows lacks a multiplayer component because the storyline seems perfect for cooperative play. All that's left after completing the Story mode is a Level Select and a Boss Battles mode, which simply allows you to take on the bosses you've already beaten. Beating these guys the first time is barely more fun than chewing kitty-litter thanks to the clunky controls. Challenging them again, when you didn't have to, would make a lunch with Fresh Step seem like the cat's meow.
Tenchu: Fatal Shadows continues on the path of cool ninja stealth action, but is thwarted by a plethora of traps like clunky control and retarded AI. If you love the series, you may like this game. You may also really like the taste of Johnny Cat. You'll never know until you try it, but we wouldn't if we were you.