Mark of the Ninja is a refreshing game in more ways than one. For starters, Mark of the Ninja is a proper ninja game, replacing full-throttle action with stealth. As a stealth game, Mark of the Ninja is a challenging, yet accessible entry into the stealth genre. Klei Entertainment also has proven that 2D platformers can be home to some intense stealth action.
First off, Mark of the Ninja looks fantastic. Klei Entertainment has made a name for themselves by creating their games in a Saturday morning cartoon art style. At first glance, Mark of the Ninja may look like a kid friendly title, but make no mistake, this is an M-rated game – the blood flows freely from your enemies, and limbs are hacked off in beautifully animated cutscenes. The in-game sprites look just as great as their cutscene counterparts. The nameless ninja moves fluidly around the wonderfully detailed stages, reacting seamlessly to any change of direction.
The story is a tale about ancient ninja traditions coming into conflict with modern technology. Your unnamed ninja is part of a clan that derives their powers from tattoos by using special ink. The downside of the ink is that it will eventually drive the ninja into a mindless rampage, so they must vow to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) before receiving the tattoo. The nameless ninja is willing to do this in order to exact revenge on those that invaded the ninja base. While most of Mark of the Ninja relies on standard ninja-revenge tropes, there is a nice turn of events at the end of the game. Overall, the story is an entertaining ride.
Mark of the Ninja plays wonderfully. Controls are tight and fluid, but occasionally it can be difficult to accurately pinpoint where you want to toss a smoke grenade. Being a stealth game, most of your time will be spent hiding in the shadows, crawling through vents, and hanging from ceilings. Guards have a line of sight, which is visible to the player. If you are spotted, the guard will wander to your last know position, which can be a perfect opportunity for setting them up for a stealth kill. Direct combat is strongly discouraged in Mark of the Ninja because your enemies are equipped with machine guns, and you only have your blade. Face-to-face combat with one foe may not result in your death, but it could take a large chunk of your life away.
Leaving a dead guard or incapacitated dog in plain sight is not a good idea either, because once spotted by a guard, everyone will be alerted for a period of time. It is best to take time to properly hide the bodies of your victims. Adding to the stealth mechanics is sound, with each action you do permeating as an on-screen sound indicator. In short, the larger the circle that appears, the louder the sound is. Running, performing imperfect kills, and throwing firecrackers are all examples of loud noises. Guards will investigate the area that a sound comes from, which is perfect for distracting them so you can either slip past them, or to kill them.
Besides human guards, there are dogs that can catch your scent, so hiding in the dark will not work against them. Lasers are also prominent in Mark of the Ninja, and there is usually a power generator for you to destroy to disable them, if not you just have to drag a dead guard around to shut down the lasers. Finally, lights will be one of your enemies. Some light fixtures can be destroyed, distracting guards in the process, but some of them cannot be destroyed. It is in your best interest to steer past them, because guards will be able to spot you from a greater distance when you are standing in the light.
Watching the patrol patterns of the guards and dogs are not the only thing that you will be concerned with, there are some laser-based puzzles that you will need to solve. Often times you will have to nail down the timing of the moving lasers, but you can disrupt them with smoke grenades or dragging a dead guard (do to the fact they have a sensor on their bodies) to help get around them. There are other lite puzzles to solve, but they will not provide much of a challenge.
Mark of the Ninja can be a difficult game, but it is always a fair one. You will quickly learn from your mistakes, and once you get the hang of all your ninja’s abilities, the game will have you feeling like a ninja master.
Mark of the Ninja grants you the ability to upgrade the nameless ninja’s abilities by gaining honor. Honor is gained by performing optional seals, finding hidden scrolls, and completing challenge rooms. With honor you can purchase abilities to improve your stealth kills (like killing by dropping from the ceiling), improve your smoke bombs, spike mines, etc. In order to purchase new ninja techniques, you must find the appropriate scroll that is hidden in the level that you are playing.
Finding scrolls, completing ninja seals, and competing for high scores on the leaderboard add a nice amount of replay value to Mark of the Ninja. A nice added touch is New Game Plus, which increases the overall difficulty of the game to test your ninja skills. Also, there is no doubt that there are plenty of gamers out there that will want to try for a run without killing anyone. It is a difficult task, but one that is attainable.
The sound department is really solid. The voice acting is great, the ambient sounds fit in just right, and the gurgles of your victims will make you cringe at times. Also, the soundtrack does a nice job of setting up the tension, or shifting gears if you are spotted. Overall, the sound melds perfectly in Mark of the Ninja, and it should seeing as how it is an important part of the gameplay.
Overall, Mark of the Ninja is an excellent gaming experience. Stealth fans should pick this game up if they have not already done so, and newcomers to the genre will be glade to now that Mark of the Ninja is accessible enough for them. Mark of the Ninja is not just one of the best ninja games in recent years, but also one of the best stealth games to be released.