Available on XBLA and Steam l Published by Microsoft Studios l Developed by Klei Entertainment l Classified M l Supports 1 player
REVIEW IN BRIEF > In this fun and engaging 2D action platformer, you’re forced to think your way through each kill. You must rely on your stealth, poise and problem solving in order to sneak up on your enemies, dispatch them and then hide their bodies. Mark of the Ninja keeps you hooked to the very last level by continually introducing new gameplay elements as you progress. Developer Klei Entertainment has certainly announced itself.
REVIEW IN FULL > If you loved the old Commodore 64 gem Saboteur, but always wondered how it would be handled in modern gaming, then look no further than Mark of the Ninja. It’s far from a remake, but they have a couple of key elements in common. You play a ninja in a 2D side-scrolling platform environment, you rely heavily on evasion and sometimes a dastardly barking dog alerts the guards to your presence. Mark of the Ninja’s storyline has a lot more depth and detail, as does its gameplay. In fact, it’s the perfect example of where gaming would be if we hadn’t made the leap to 3D.
You can’t go in all guns blazing, mainly because you don’t have any.
The story begins with a rival clan’s assault on your base. After falling unconscious, a lady Ninja named Ora awakens you. She proceeds to act as your guide (and ongoing bossy nag) as you try to make your enemies pay for their sneak attack. You also discover these strange tattoos all over your body. Unlike a regretful night on the town, these tatts give you some wicked skills that you can upgrade and add to throughout your journey. The downside? It slowly makes you insane (there’s always a catch). There are a couple of notable twists and turns in this plot that will really keep you guessing to the end.
Mark of the Ninja is addictive. You can’t go in all guns blazing, mainly because you don’t have any. You’re forced to use your smarts and work out how to either sneak past the guards or creep up on them. You have darts to eliminate the lights to avoid being seen and numerous bushes, bins and doors to hide behind. Then, when the time is right, you strike, slashing the guard’s throat from behind. Sometimes you score a perfect kill, one where your victim makes no noise. Other times, your techniques fails you and he dies screaming (how inconsiderate). One fun little task is working out how to hide the bodies (oh, the memories).
Impressively, the gameplay is ever evolving, with new puzzles to solve and new obstacles to overcome being introduced at regular intervals. There are lights with grates to protect them from being smashed (meaning you just have to avoid them). You also encounter deadly lasers, motion detectors, bombs, crumbling platforms and meddling dogs to name but a few. Just when you think you’ve got a handle the mechanics of the game, they throw something else at you. Even the last few levels introduce new, and sometimes deadly, facets. For example, you become accustomed to hiding under the floors, but near the end of the game, your enemies release deadly gas into these areas.
With additional challenges comes new abilities and objects to overcome them. Can’t get past a guard because he is staring in your direction? Throw a ‘noise maker’ in the other direction and, while he has his back turned, cut his throat (he won’t be bothering you anymore). An ability which isn’t necessary, but can be useful, is the capacity to slip down, kill an enemy and hang him from the roof. It spooks the other guards. They scream, become distracted, making it easy to get the upper hand over them. No more joy can be had then throwing a body into a room full of guards and freaking them out so much that they become easy pickings. Using the environment is also satisfying and sometimes necessary. For example, you can release a chandelier to take out opponents standing below.
It’s not uncommon to hear ‘he’s targeting the lights’ after you’ve smashed your way through 100+ globes.
Don’t think that outsmarting the henchmen makes you a genius though. They are not the most thorough of employees and they often state the obvious. If they find a dead body, you only have to remain hidden for 10 seconds. Even if you’re hiding behind a nearby pot plant, the guards will look around for a short time and then say something like “I guess he’s not here”. It’s also not uncommon to hear “he’s targeting the lights” after you’ve smashed your way through 100+ globes. Thank you, Captain Obvious! Apart from some nasty ninja robots near the end, the only intelligent guards are the dogs. They can smell you and damn it, they don’t rest until half the bloody building knows you’re there.
Other than the controls being a little fiddly at times, which can lead to some untimely falls, there is not too much fault to find in this game. Aesthetically, it is beautiful. Beyond the anime style cut scenes, the subtle environmental changes such as rain or dusty wind immerse you into the world the developer has created. It’s a fun, engaging game that cleverly utilises all elements of its 2D environment and it certainly puts Klei Entertainment on the radar of companies to keep an eye on.