September 19, 2012

Review – Mark of the Ninja

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 12:08 am

Review Mark of the Ninja
While not quite as overcooked as our friend the zombie, the Ninja certainly qualifies as a familiar enough videogame character to stir a collective sigh whenever a new title bearing a protagonist with the requisite sword and black pajamas appears.

But hold your breath a moment longer dear Sugarfriend, because the latest release from Klei Entertainment justifies the familiar trappings by placing said protagonist firmly in the stealth genre here, leaving one only to question why that hasn’t happened more often.

Mind you, I’ve given the thumbs-up to a fair number of lightning fast ninja titles, never really questioning the lack of a ninja game that focused on the most basic principles of the silent and invisible weapon the ninja represents at its core. The experiment warrants more than a few words, and that Klei has also created this ninja tale in a 2D environment that manages to freshen up ye olde stealth genre to boot only strengthens the sales pitch.

Review Mark of the Ninja
After his clan is attacked by an arms dealer, our silent protagonist is chosen to seek revenge and given the mark of the ninja – a series of tattoos with ink that grants him enhanced powers, but will also drive him insane and necessitate that he kill himself after accomplishing his mission.

Said mission will inevitably twist and turn like the ink that wraps around his body and eats at his mind, unwinding through a series of intricately plotted 2D maps littered with armed guards eager to spot the silent assassin and fill him full of lead.

As with the most worthy stealth titles, the real game becomes one of patience between the player and the obstacles on screen. Guards walk tired paths with searchlights casually looking for disturbances, while exterior lights and clever environmental occurrences such as lightning during a rain storm also threaten to expose our ninja’s presence. Floating like a butterfly also comes into play as guards have a circle of observation in which they will hear heavy footsteps, the sounds of objects being disturbed or broken, and the sometimes less than muffled sounds of their companions meeting a bloody end by the player’s sword.

Review Mark of the Ninja
The game allows players to casually walk behind these guards and attempt a stealth kill by pressing the analog stick in a certain direction along with the button prompt – success keeps the act on the down low while failure alerts nearby guards, but both cases display a tremendously fluid execution sequence. Leaving these bodies where they fall also risks them being discovered and putting all nearby guards on alert – all alert status’ are handled by a countdown clock ala Metal Gear Solid.

But this isn’t just about silently killing opponents. Mark of the Ninja offers constant stealth alternatives with an endless series of underground passages and overhead railings to hang from, as well as objects to hide behind and darkened doorways to hide within, and still finds space for perches that can be reached with a grapple to hurl players overhead of enemies – all so that the truly patient ninja can revel in bypassing dozens of opponents without spilling a single drop of blood.

Admittedly, I always feel a little safer leaving fewer guards to run into should the game require a bit of backtracking, but there’s something to attempting never to draw your blade that makes for an added and compelling challenge.

Speaking to the detailed design, I rather enjoyed that all these paths lead rather naturally toward each goal point, I rarely used the map, though it is ever handy with the press of a button.

Review Mark of the Ninja
While repetition is a concern with any game, the stealth genre always leaves me doubly concerned, though the sheer amount of options out of the gate here provide plenty of mileage and crosses the finish line without feeling worn for the trip. The dark and moody atmosphere is at once inviting, but also limits changes of scenery toward the end of the game, and yet environmental concerns offer plenty of meat on the bone before falling into a familiar series of paths toward the end.

Klei raises the stakes as the game progresses in a fairly traditional way, offering enemies that counter-balance your skills, requiring that one stun a larger enemy before dispatching them, introducing guard dogs that can sense your presence even when hidden behind the many vases and doorways that will conceal your presence from guards, and ninja that can sense your presence even when their back is turned and are better avoided altogether. The game will even take your sword away for a bit, and yet still provide opportunities to use traps against opponents or continue avoiding them.

There were many scenarios in which I simply didn’t invest the time in avoiding opponents and have since found myself back at the search for a more invisible path through stages. The 2D environments also offer a more comfortable means of surveying the landscape and better judging the best path forward, though the game continually searches for the means to keep players moving.

The tools of the ninja trade evolve along with the challenges, from noise distractions and spiky floor traps, to the ability to essentially warp yourself over short distances. Causing distractions is an interesting proposition because it always risks exposing you. Additional abilities such as killing opponents through doorways or by dropping down on them from above can be purchased with points earned during play, and also used to enhance the goodies in your ninja utility belt.

Review Mark of the Ninja
Despite the amount of options available to players, it doesn’t take long to fall into a comfortable groove – though Klei does a great job of continually shaking this up without upsetting the flow of play. Each new section of a stage found me eager to climb or crawl past guards, while areas plagued with traps taught me to slowdown and use my ninja sense to reveal the dangers ahead. Being spotted by guards is rarely the end of the world, with a relatively mild difficulty curve that allows opportunities to wait out their short alert status – though some areas will require repeated attempts and a small bit of puzzle solving, particularly the challenge segments hidden throughout stages.

As the game winds down it reaches for a rather poetic question regarding the nature of the mark that has empowered and cursed its protagonist, opting rather wisely to leave players to make a final decision and therein draw their own conclusions based on their take of the experience that brings them to it.

In the end Mark of the Ninja aims to serve dual desires, focusing on stealth play but not inhibiting a more action oriented approach throughout its stages, offering plenty of opportunity for return visits to its highly polished world – ever strengthened by its sweet and simple invitation to think about the consequences of each small decision that inches players ever closer to its conclusion.

Klei Entertainment

Microsoft Studios

Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade)


Release Date
September 7, 2012

1200 Microsoft Points

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress