Just when I thought that this year’s Summer of Arcade XBL offerings were slightly disappointing and not upto the quality that I usually expect, a game comes out of nowhere and blows me away. Klei Entertainment’s Mark of the Ninja wasn’t advertised or announced with fanfare, but a few core fans showed interest in it based on the trailer. However, trailers can be deceptive as we saw from an earlier SoA offering, Deadlight–a zombie game that turned out to be average.
You must have played Klei’s Shank games, right? While not polished to perfection, they were fun 2D sidescrollers that carved out an identity for themselves due to their quirky visual style and animation. Mark of the Ninja is somewhat similar when it comes to basic appearance. You will quickly realise who made this game, but unlike the Shank games, Mark of the Ninja (henceforth, MotN) is a game with a lot of depth and flawless execution.
I don’t really use flawless when describing a video game, maybe I did when I reviewed Deus Ex million years ago, but my memory is sort of fuzzy right now. MotN is a game that will provide you a satisfying stealth gameplay, combined with sheer amount of options to tackle a level. The ability to clear stages without killing anyone is something that all stealth games must possess, but MotN goes that extra mile to give you a tremendous set of abilities and items to enhance the overall experience.
The story is forgetful, in fact, it’s about a bunch of Ninja’s who do some random objectives. The cutscenes are cheesy and somewhat decent to look at but the meat of the game is in its gameplay. Look, story and stuff really doesn’t matter here when you’ll be spending 10 odd hours sneaking around doing various things, depending on your play style. And yeah, you heard that right, the game is quite lengthy requiring you to spend a lot of time thinking of ways to clear the level. It depends on your style though. You can make a lot of noise and play clumsily or you can play as a Ninja, well, d’uh you are a Ninja, and sneak your way out of difficult situations.
There’s a great joy in clearing missions without alerting any guard or doing some nasty thing that you probably shouldn’t have. It’s what makes stealth games epic, and allowing you to complete levels, and collect items scattered around for points, is incredibly satisfying. You are given points after completing each level with will take you 15-30 minutes, and depending on how you did–avoid enemies, complete mini objectives and stuff, the higher the score. It’s pretty straightforward.
The one thing that adds to the immersion is of course the visuals. The game is mostly set in a dark environment with light posts littered around shining their 70 – 90 degree light beam on the ground. Get caught in it, and it will alert the guards, requiring you to run for a few seconds, Metal Gear style. There are vents which take you to different parts of the level or even special areas where upon completing the puzzle, you are given certain abilities.
As the game progresses, things get harder with items that can detect your movement, to lasers which will make a mince meat out of you if you manage to get hit by them. However, there are a lot of generous checkpoints which can be a life saver sometimes. Remember though, if you quit the game in the middle of a mission, you need to do the entire thing again. Sometimes the checkpoints can be bugged too, triggering just when you die, so yeah you will be forced to start the level again. I didn’t face too much of that though, because I was playing more carefully once I encountered that glitch.
There are items which you can use to distract enemies like noise maker, smoke bombs and all that stuff, along with techniques which, you know, makes you the Ninja you are. I will prefer that you play silently without going all out kicking and punching the hell out of people. Your life isn’t that high and a few bullets can make that checkpoint activate. Of course, it’s your choice how you decide to play, as there are quite a bit of abilities and techniques here that you can buy once you have enough points.
Controls are smooth as butter and extremely responsive as well, especially when you use that hook to traverse ledges and get into proper positions to avoid detection. When you consider the sheer amount of content, glorious visuals, and a satisfying game and level design, you should realize that for an arcade game this is overkill.
I was thinking of giving this game a perfect score, but even though I want to ignore the story–which is entirely forgettable–I simply can’t do that. Mark of the Ninja excels in every department except the story, and is complete value for money, providing hours and hours of satisfying 2D stealth entertainment. I wish there was a 3D game made based entirely on this concept, because after playing this game, I want more!
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
2D stealth masterpeice. Gorgeous art style and visuals. Competent stealth mechanics and game design. Scoring, leaderboards and other competitive features. Lot of options given to gamers to tackle levels.
The story is forgettable and makes no sense.
Mark of the Ninja excels in every department except the story and is a complete value for money, providing hours and hours of satisfying 2D stealth entertainment.
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