Mark of the Ninja
Ever woken up, after passing out in a strange place, covered in drawings? Yeah? Well, that’s exactly the position you’ll find yourself in when starting Mark of the Ninja… only you’re a ninja, tasked with saving the honor of your ninja clan, not just taking a shower and heading back to bed.
The stealth game genre is one that stalks in the shadows and is rarely done in its purest form – where being seen is something you’re punished for. Klei Entertainment (creators of Shank) takes a stab at this elusive genre with Mark of the Ninja, a 2D side scrolling platformer currently released for XBLA, but coming on October 16th to Steam. It’s a game that brings ninjas into a modern day setting and where remaining undetected is the major key to success.
Champions of the ink
You play a ninja, adorned in a mysterious ink which grants you special skills. This ink, originating from a desert flower, is a double edged blade as it also slowly drives the bearer mad. Which is why any ninja adorned with the ink is sworn to end their own life, after completing their mission, before it drives them all the way to crazy-town. As a ninja, you are rewarded for keeping to the shadows and eliminating or bypassing your foes without being spotted.
Let’s play hangman!
You’re awarded score points for various actions in each level. Be it the manner in which you silently take down an enemy, whether you hide the bodies you rack up, remaining hidden, distraction techniques or my personal favourite – terrorizing your adversaries. You can instill terror by either throwing the corpse of an enemy at another enemys feet, or freaking them out by hanging your victim from the nearest hook and waiting for a patrol to stumble upon him. After that you can sit back and watch the feathers fly as the terrorized flock begin taking each other out with their own friendly fire. You can get up to 3 score based medals per level, depending on how high your points are.
Beyond score points there are 3 story enhancing scrolls to find on each level (some of which require you to complete a special challenge stage) and 3 level related tasks to complete. All of this is optional but the more you complete, the more points you have to spend in between levels on assorted ninja techniques, tools and upgrades.
The different techniques and tools allow you to vary your playstyle throughout the game. In combination with outfits, which you unlock as you progress through the game, you can tailor your ninja as you see fit. If you want to slither your way through a level without killing anyone, there’s an outfit for that – allowing you to equip all the distraction tools your friendly neighborhood ninja would need to achieve this. Alternatively, if you want to litter the levels with deadly traps, there’s also an outfit befitting that play style. One of the more amusing ninja tools is a cardboard box, an obvious salute to the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Utilizing this tool gives you the option of movable cover, and of course, a base from which to stealthily murder and conceal an enemy.
I should call this in…
The gameplay in general is incredibly fluid, everything works just as it should with only a few trivial exceptions. There can be some confusion when you throw a body at an enemy intending to terrorize him. Sometimes it has the desired effect, but sometimes they just raise the alarm. It can also be a little frustrating that sometimes when you are trying to clamber from wall to ceiling that you end up jumping instead. Especially when it comes to the lengthy puzzle sections towards the end of the game, as one wrong move could cause your immediate death. Thankfully, the respawn points are quite forgiving and usually you pop back mere moments away from where you met your doom.
The game takes a cartoon-esque art direction in terms of cutscenes and character design. However, the artwork used for the backdrop vistas and environments in each level are stunning. From moonlit japanese pagodas to industrialized desert ruins, each level keeps you immersed in the experience. Take this and combine it with the skillful sound design – which manages to both keep you on the edge of your seat and, if spotted, set your adrenaline pumping – and you’ve got yourself the perfect atmosphere.
Once you complete the game, you unlock the New Game Plus mode. This allows you to replay the game with all the upgrades you’ve earned from the previous playthrough. It also ramps up the AI difficulty, removes the sound bubbles indicating how far sound travels and limits line of sight to a frontal cone.
Priced at 1200 Microsoft Points this stealth game is a shining example of a game that warrants its price tag. Mark of the Ninja has a high replay value with its optional goals and the New Game Plus mode – not to mention the leaderboards. Even if you’re not a fan of stealth games I would still recommend picking this up – as it’s a game that is not only an outstanding example of stealth done well, but also one of the best downloadable games out there. One thing’s for sure, this is definitely not a game you should let slink away into the shadows.
Miss; The story could have been better, as it is it’s quite simple but the twist at the end is good.
Need; The puzzle sections would have benefitted from being shorter. As they are now it can be a bit tedious to work through.