Mark of the Ninja Review
Game: Mark of the Ninja
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 only
As creators of some of the best 2D side-scrolling games in the last few years, Klei Entertainment are steadily building themselves up as one of best small development teams out there; N+, Eets and the Shank series of games are all evidence of this statement. Up next from Klei comes Mark of the Ninja, a game that carries all the style from previous Klei games, yet brings a different play style to the table. How does Mark of the Ninja play you ask? Well, you’ve come to the right place to find out.
The story of Mark of the Ninja is a simple one, as it follows the story of, yep, you guessed it, a ninja, as he is sent out on his final quest (in ninja land, a final quest really is final, as the ninja must sacrifice himself when it is complete) to avenge the deaths of all the members of his clan, who were killed by a ninja hating group known as The Hessian Services, lead by a George Michael lookalike named Karajan, who dislikes ninjas and seems to have gotten into the habit of underestimating them somewhat. Will this turn out to be his downfall?
Klei Entertainment’s last game was Shank 2, which was released back in February of this year, so it has been a pretty swift turn around between titles. When you first boot up Mark of the Ninja, the similarities between it and the aforementioned Shank 2 are quite clear, as the way the two games are presented are largely the same. What is entirely different, however, is how the game plays. Mark of the Ninja is a stealth focused game, something that must have been a joy to develop after the all out brutal assault that was Klei’s last release.
You may be wondering how effective a 2D stealth game can be in these 3D, open world inspired times. The answer, thanks to the amazing presentation seen in Mark of the Ninja, is very effective indeed. Mark of the Ninja is a dark game, for the most part taking part in dim surroundings while the light of city life glows in the background. You control your character just how you would expect to in any other 2D side-scrolling game, however the opening levels are littered with tutorial tidbits to help guide you through and show you the ropes.
Some way through the first level you will come across your first Hessian Guard. Mark of the Ninja is littered with these unfortunate folk, and I say unfortunate because of the fate that befalls them as the game goes on. A full frontal assault will get you nowhere with these guys, they have guns, and you do not. What you do have, however, are all the tools necessary to take this guy out silently, if you choose to do so. That is the key point here, Klei give you the tools to progress through the game’s levels in a variety of ways, and it’s up to you to choose how to do it. First up, is your trusty sword, if you can get behind him without alerting him, you will be able to pull up a small quick time event that will lead to his bloody death. Need to distract him, or get him closer to you? Bring out the Noise Makers and Blow Darts, make him confused, terrify him even. Or you could leave him alone, and move through the level quickly.
Mark of the Ninja is packed full of encounters like the one outlined above, and each and every one was as enjoyable as the last. Sometimes there would be two or three guards together, sometimes there would be booby traps, lasers, sensors to avoid, while all the while trying to reach an objective. Mark of the Ninja blends puzzle, platform and combat events into a flawless mix of a game. It really is a game that is hard to put down, and manages to stay fresh and interesting throughout, upping the challenge slightly as you reach the later levels and hit a twist in the story.
As mentioned previously, Mark of the Ninja shares its visual style with some of Klei’s previous titles, namely Shank, with its beautifully drawn 2D sprites on fantastical 2D hand drawn backdrops, all tied together with a smoothness of animation that makes the whole thing seem like a cartoon brought to life. It’s J-Comic looks are complimented by some wonderful use of sprite animations, which are used to aid you in your stealthy endeavours. If you make your character run, for example, blue shockwave like pulses will race from his feet, signifying the amount of noise you are making, if the pulse crosses the ears of a guard, then he will be alerted and come looking for you. These pulses are useful in manipulating the tools at your disposal, as they allow you to see their range and effectiveness. Another spot of presentational genius comes in the form of the way Mark of the Ninja uses a sort of ‘fog of war’ to inhibit how far you are able to see, this means that you can’t see all of the enemies in the screen space at one time, rather you need to be the same room as the enemy to see what they are up to. This means peaking through air vents, pressing your ear to a door and climbing the walls in order to get an advantage. Bursting into the room and hoping for the best won’t help you here, folks.
Hidden throughout the game you will find passages that lead to special challenge rooms. These challenge rooms don’t have any impact on the main game, but they are a lot of fun. They offer up by far the trickiest situations in the game, situations such as trying to get your ninja from point A to point B without being fried by a laser. There is no multiplayer to speak of in Mark of the Ninja, which is fair enough since stealth games don’t lend themselves all that well to player on player multiplayer, there are leaderboards by which to judge your stealthiness though.
The game’s audio works in tandem with this visual effect, fading in and out, becoming clear and then muffled, as you jump from point to point, building to building, interior to exterior. Speaking of music, the game is backed up by a solid score that sounds like a fusion of American western and classic martial arts soundtracks, a reflection of a theme that seems to exist throughout the game, as an old culture struggles to exist in the modern era.
VERDICT: Mark of the Ninja is another outstanding game in what is turning out to be a golden year for XBLA titles. Its flawless mix of puzzle solving, combat, stealth and platforming add up to what is probably Klei Entertainments best title to date. The main story will keep you occupied for around 8 hours and there are enough challenges and unlockables to make you want to come back for more. Things get a little frustrating at the tail-end but, when all is said and done, Mark of the Ninja is a title you don’t want to miss.