I ran a feudal Japan newsletter for ten years and I think we have played every ninja game that's come out. Tenchu Z is a good mix of skills and atmosphere.
To begin with, Tenchu Z is a stealth based game. We might now think that is fairly commonplace with all the Splinter Cell style games that are out, but there was a time when combat games were about blasting and shooting. The Tenchu series stands out for making stealth more important. You're aiming not to hurt any innocents. Only the enemy at hand is to be harmed. The more you can be sneaky, and get in and out without a trace, the better you are doing.
You can use anything around you. Hide in a bush. Creep along the roof. Tuck behind a tree. Watch out how your shadow falls - guards will notice that.
For those who, like me, adore the Japanese culture, the settings are an added bonus. You're creeping along on tatami mats, easing your way through a zen garden, and sliding open the rice-paper screen. It is a beautiful world in which you do your deadly deeds.
That's not to say the game is perfect. Few games are. The faces look a bit plasticky, as if they were made out of a shiny clay. At times it is a bit creepy. The enemies aren't always brilliant. I can be there hacking away at guard #1 and Guard #2, only a few feet away, stares off into the distance as if he can't hear the blood-curdling screams of his dying friend. Or I'll be fighting with a guard in a room and race out of the doorway - and he completely loses track of me. Look, there's only one door. Clearly I'm in the hallway.
Still, in a way I count situations like that as "my fault" - because my aim is to do it without the guards spotting me. If I'm even in that spot in the first place, I've done something wrong.
The game has a lot of missions, but they tend to reuse locations. There's no call for that. Level design is easy and fun. They absolutely should have given us new places to explore.
Still, I enjoy the game immensely, and highly recommend it.
I purchased this game with my own funds in order to do this review.
Buy Tenchu Z from Amazon.com