“I’m very sneaky sneaky sir” could have been a tagline for Mark of the Ninja, a game devoted solely to the ninjutsu arts and the stealthy killings of others. From the team behind Shank, Klei Entertainment has branched off in a into a unique direction. Doing everything you can to remain unseen, Mark of the Ninja puts you in the silent boots of a ninja as you set out to protect your clan.
Set in the modern world, you play as the champion of the Tetsuji Clan of ninjas. They still practice the old ways of ninjutsu, only with a few extra modern touches. The champions of the clan are tattooed with special markings and special ink from a plant, imbuing them with greater senses and abilities far beyond that of normal people. It comes with a price though – they eventually go insane and must kill themselves (or die honorable) before they become bloodthirsty. It turns everything into a race against time for our hero and his clan – they are on the receiving end of a vicious attack and it’s up to you to respond in kind and end the threat from the evil corporation and it’s CEO.
The game does a good job of making the player feel like a ninja and not rely on faux stealth that a majority of “stealth” titles do. Throughout the levels there are opportunities for players to hide, crawl around, distract guards, and be a general badass as you rip your enemies to shreds. Don’t forget to hide their bodies, it’s quite important. The game uses a very good cover system and lighting dynamics. Straying into the light of either lamp or an enemy’s flashlight means you’ll be spotted, but using the cover system and hiding from sight actually means just that – they won’t know you’re there.
The only real downside when going for a stealth kill, the game uses a very quick and miniaturized version of a quick-time event. Players must follow the on-screen command of pushing the thumbstick a certain direction and hitting X or risk performing a clean kill. In the heat of the moment, it is quite easy to make a mistake as your attention drifts over to the other patrolling guard. Why can’t we just execute a clean kill automatically?
Using a point system to deliver rankings between levels and gauge players on their ninja-ness, if you play your cards right and try to use what the game gives you for abilities, it’s not difficult to do well enough to come away with the highest point totals. If you’re more of the type to run and gun though (or run and stab in this case), you’re gonna have a bad time. If that is your progative then go right ahead, but it really takes away from what MotN offers and you don’t get the full experience. Plus you get crappy point totals, and don’t you want to brag to your friends a little bit? Anyways, points are awarded for doing many things – from performing kills in special ways or even just as a silent assassin to finding hidden scrolls (these also grant upgrades) to completing random side-objectives each level.
What really catches the eye with this game is not the awesome stealth mechanics or the way our protagonist slices and dices his way through things; it’s the graphics. Much like it’s predecessor’s in the Shank series, Mark of the Ninja uses a fantastic 2D world to tell a story. It’s crisp, clean, and beautifully rendered artwork that reminds me greatly of 90’s cartoons. And I love old 90’s cartoons – they were just ridiculous, and MotN is much the same with how it handles some of the things happening on-screen. Even the cutscenes are fun to watch as they segue their way around the story while showing off vivid details.
I’m a fan of stealth games whether they’re action stealth or stealth action, but I truly prefer a game that delivers a stealth experience that actually means the word stealth. Thankfully, Mark of the Ninja does not slouch in that department and I think many others would agree on that aspect. I definitely recommend giving it a shot since who doesn’t, at some point in their lives, want to be an awesome ninja? While it’s not permanent, MotN at least lets us live out that dream for a short while. Head over to the Xbox Live Marketplace now to purchase Mark of the Ninja.
Note: The Mark of the Ninja review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.