Developer Klei Studios had a lot to prove after their previous cartoon stylized titles of Shank and Shank 2 were the poster children of side-scroller mediocrity. While they had a fantastic art style to them, their gameplay was lacking and ultimately wasted in their repetitiveness. Their newest offering, Mark of the Ninja, brings the same fantastic art style but instead of balls to the wall, guts and glory, it takes players on a journey of stealth and sabotage. It’s a reminder that there really was a time when ninja games were about stealth and strategy. A time when games like Tenchu were once about using the tools at your disposal for quietly dispatching enemies and not just jumping into a group of enemies, hacking and slashing their limbs off like every other modern ninja based game.
Mark of the Ninja is what a ninja game –hell, it’s what EVERY ninja game should be. To proceed through levels, you need to use the shadows to your advantage and when shadows aren’t available. it’s up to you to create them without getting caught by being seen or by being heard. In a Splinter Cell-esque way, you can pot shot lights to continually conceal yourself in darkness allowing you to get the jump on the numerous patrolling enemies. Once you run into an enemy, you will need to perform a quick button press and stick movement to successfully and rather brutally take them down.
Once down, you can then throw their body off ledges, carry them and drag them through grate openings, or the good old assassin standby of throwing them into a dumpster to make sure they aren’t found by other patrolling guards. While it may seem a straight forward path from beginning to end at first, it is in actuality, anything but. The way you decide to perform the actions in each level varies each and every time. It is methodical, rewarding, and ever so punishing, all depending on the path you choose.
Once you get past the first few levels, just taking out lights to conceal yourself doesn’t fly anymore and you’ll need to learn some new tricks. In each level, there are objectives to perform and scrolls that you can find that will then allow you to earn points which will allow you to purchase additional weapons and costumes.
Specific weapons are needed for certain play styles and allow you to take out and distract enemies in various ways ranging from the simple firecrackers to alert guards to a specific location to smoke bombs to block lasers, and the more devious flesh eating bugs that will devour a guard and leave no trace of their remains.
Just as your armaments get more sophisticated, so do the enemies. Dogs will start to appear who have a large radius of where they can detect–or rather smell you, and later enemies can only be attacked from behind, and some that are just more robotic have varying attributes to mess up your plans–not to give away the story.
Mark of the Ninja is a far cry from Shank and Shank 2 gameplay-wise and yet it is boisterous with the same smooth and flawless animation of those two titles. It shows that ninja games can indeed be completely about stealth and in doing so be both fun and hair-pullingly difficult. There’s much to uncover in the 4-5 hours you’ll spend on the first play through and thankfully the game is entertaining enough to make you actually want to replay levels, as well as find the hidden bonus rounds in each chapter. Mark of the Ninja is what ninja games used to be, back when ninja games were amazing to play.
Title: Mark of the Ninja