- Platform: Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Release Date: September 7, 2012
- Price: $14.99
- Official: Mark of the Ninja
“One of the best surprises of the year”
Ninja’s, the world’s elite assassins and covert operatives, showing amazing skill in the art of stealth and subterfuge they are a mainstay in popular culture, a favorite among children and adults alike. But the ninja has also been a hard nut to crack for both Hollywood and videogames, with end results often being a mess, one that has a lot of flash but little substance. With games such as Tenchu and Ninja Gaiden having come and gone, with varying degrees of success, it has been some time since a company has attempted to capture what makes the ninja so endearing. Well welcome Klei Entertainment’s stab at the genre, because it hits closest to the mark than any before.
Klei Entertainment is a small Vancouver studio best known for its ‘Shank” series, but they have also released Eets and helped in the development of N+ for Xbox Live, but it is still Shank that people remember. Wearing a distinct art style and displaying great action Shank 1 and 2 received favorable reviews from most outlets, but quietly Klei wasn’t resting on its laurels, they were toiling away on a title that was far away from Shanks violent frenetic pace, a title that instead put stealth and planning above all else. Mark of the Ninja released out of nowhere in early September, as quietly as its main protagonist, but it also hit just as hard.
Released originally for Xbox Live Arcade, the title just missed out on the Summer of Arcade promotion, a tragedy, as it would have greatly helped with this year’s subpar lineup. The title recently released onto the Steam platform as well. What Klei has managed to do with Mark of the Ninja is pretty remarkable, no other developer has been able to capture the magic of being a true stealth assassin, with most just opting to go for pure action ala Tecmo with Ninja Gaiden. Mark will forever be the bar that all other Ninja games are judged or possibly even stealth games in general.
Mark of the Ninja is a side scrolling stealth title with brilliant ideas and execution. The game allows you to be as quiet or as violent as you like, with viable tools for each, and each is a completely fun and exciting way to experience the game. You may choose to play through one stage as a ghost in the darkness, avoiding any enemies you see on your way to the end, then in the next level, choose to instead harass and terrify the guards in your path, stringing up their friends bodies as a message and opening up their backs while they stare in horror. Each location is an open sandbox for you to do with as you please.
One of the best aspects of the game however, is how open it is with letting you know exactly what is going on. Displayed on screen is every detail you will need to formulate your strategy, but yet it is all handled without displaying any bars or other intrusive elements onto the screen, an impressive feat. Not once while playing the game will you not know how visible you are, not once will the game feel cheap, unlike some games released this year (ahem, Dishonored) If you are in the shadows and thus not visible the games screen will become a shade of black and white, letting you know you cannot be seen. Enemies will have flashlights that act as a clear line of sight, elements making noise will show a sphere of distance, and vents and doors can be looked through to see to the other side. The game is a collection of brilliant design decisions that work so flawlessly that they may appear subtle to the user, but if they weren’t there, would be glaringly obvious and frustrating.
This care and attention has gone into your abilities and toolsets as well. You can choose to be outfitted with a number of implements, from simple darts and firecrackers, to more lethal utensils, such as spike mines and caltrops. Your skill as an assassin will also grow as you progress, opening up new maneuvers, from hanging from a light post to quietly grab your prey, to eventually running without making any noise. The game manages these abilities and tools through several skill trees that you will be able to work through as you play; these trees are enhanced further with costumes you can unlock by completing side objectives. These costumes not only look cool, they will change up how you experience the game. There is even a certain box that you can unlock, a not so subtle nod to another stealth based series.
As you move further through the story enemy variety and environmental dangers increase. You will have to plan around simple grunts, snipers, and brutes as well as dogs and security lasers. Luckily the enemy AI is fun to battle. You will be able to manipulate guards through various means, and potentially get them to mistakenly shoot their own partners as they panic. The gameplay that Klei has given Mark of the Ninja never falters at being entertaining, and if you do begin to lose interest in one form of attack, simply change up your playstyle and have at it again.
Visually Mark of the Ninja carries that distinct visual style Klei brought Shank to life with. Sharp thick lines and cartoonish figures blended with bold violent acts. If there is one gripe to the game, it’s that this beautiful art style is not displayed enough, as the majority of the experience is played with a far camera and at night and in shadows. The music and sound effects are fine, but are also toned down to give the game a quiet feeling. The story is told through animated cut scenes and takes its twists and turns, but it is nothing to write home about.
Mark of the Ninja is a cheap downloadable title that boasts one of the best gameplay experiences of the year. You can easily find yourself wanting to play through the game a second time, as a New Game Plus option opens up after completion. The game also holds hidden collectibles and bonus stages within its maze like environments. With Mark of the Ninja Klei Entertainment has possibly crafted one of the finest examples of stealth gameplay in a videogame, but they have without question created the best ninja experience in gaming ever. -Chuck
- + Fantastic gameplay for both stealth and action
- + Fun assortment of tools and maneuvers
- + Great presentation
- + All mechanics are displayed well to the player
- – Art and animation perhaps not used as well as it could have been