Review by Bkstunt_31
"Stealth fans rejoice!"
While I'm definitely a HUGE gamer I sure don't follow gaming news all that well. To be fair the more news you read the less games you play! Despite that though, I've been hearing an awful lot about this Mark of the Ninja game and how good it is. It seems to be on a lot of people's "Top 10" lists and is selling well on Steam. I learned it was made by Klei Entertainment, the company that made Shank and Shank 2 which were entertaining but not exactly Top 10 material. Time to see what all the fuss is about...
It's all about the ink...
Ninja's are supposed to be the predators, not the prey, so when your ninja base is attacked by an outside force you know there's trouble. You'll control a nameless ninja, who despite being nameless in the game is still pretty remarkable. You see, at the start of the game your character is given a special tattoo that is said to enhance his abilities to a supernatural level, a very potent power for a ninja. However the tattoo is said to drive the person mad over time, and anyone who takes on the tattoo must take their own life for the good of the clan. That worry is for future ninja you though, so for now you must drive the intruders out and find out why they attacked you.
I'll be honest: the story in Mark of the Ninja isn't its strong point. It's not something that's going to make you question your morals or leave a profound revelation on you. The game does have an interesting story and makes you question what's going on and who you can and can't trust with an interesting twist at the end but the story is still rather shallow in the end. I mean, your main character IS nameless after all and everyone in the game has very little back-story. Still, the presentation and timing of the story is very well done. The story DOES get filled out a little bit (not very much) by finding hidden tomes while playing the game. I actually really liked what they did with the tomes as once you find one you'll uncover a snippet of the story or a reoccurring theme of death/sneakiness but every one of these tomes is a haiku and read to you once you find them. Very cool.
Misdirection is your friend.
So the story isn't what people are clamoring about. Got it. We don't have the next Braid here. Well, if it's not the story it MUST be the game play. And oh man... it is...
Mark of the Ninja is ALL about stealth, and your objectives are always either to kill a target or to escape/make your way to a certain point. Mark of the Ninja is also all about being open, and so they are very open in telling you what your enemies can see and hear as you play. Therefore all light in the game is very visible: you can always tell whether or not you are visible or not. Enemies also have a sphere around them that tell you if they can hear something in range or not.
Using this knowledge you have to use your environment to hide. The environments are ALWAYS cleverly designed and usually feature multiple ways to get through them. You can take the guard-laden path and hide behind items, or perhaps there is a vent nearby you can sneak through. Or maybe you can climb the walls of the place or sneak along the ceiling. Options were never a problem. The guards you'll encounter interact with their environment and each other as well. A big part of the game is using your ninja skills and tools for misdirection. Perhaps a guard is unmoving in his dedication to guard that door! A kunai to the nearby light may make him leave and check it out. Or it may pull him right into your trap. My favorite part of the game by far is how you can interact with the environment and how the guards react. They will often get suspicious if they hear something or think they see you, which you can often use to your advantage.
Killing enemies is entirely optional and has its advantages and disadvantages. Killing from stealth is a simple process: wait for the killing prompt to appear and then hit it. Once you do you will have to move the mouse in a certain direction (semi-randomly generated) to do a PROPER stealth kill. If you mess up this mouse part the kill will be messy and the victim will scream which could put you in trouble. Fighting out of stealth is a risk due to the noise and the fact that instead of using your blade or ninja tools you'll resort to punching and kicking. Of course, if you do choose to kill you have to worry about the bodies left behind. Thankfully you can pick up and drag bodies back to your hiding places to get rid of them. You can also use the bodies for more... creative purposes. Ok, ok, I admit it I'm addicted to throwing bodies into guard's paths and trying to freak them out. What!? Don't judge! Killing and hiding bodies are scored as you go, but so is not being detected and/or seen. These scores are given out at the end of the mission and award you seals based on how well you do (more on that in a bit).
Controls in the game are VERY tight and just feel right. This combined with the responsive and open nature of the stealth and the creativity of your environments goes a long way towards making the game fun. However there are the rare examples of the game being TOO tight with its controls. For example, I was near a vent once that was right by a ceiling you could climb on/stick to. Due to the proximity of the two objects the game would ONLY let me go into the vent. Examples like this are few and far between but they can be frustrating.
Mark of the Ninja also has some RPG aspects to it. I mentioned earlier that you were scored during the mission and points award you seals. You also gain seals by finding the ninja haiku's during the mission. Each mission also has three different challenges in it, which often impose limits on what you can do or require you to do certain things to complete them. All of these things reward you seals which you can use to buy new moves and ninja tools, giving you a reason to go out of your way and explore/play each level fully.
In the end, the game play is the real shining star of Mark of the Ninja. The controls are tight, the environment is creative and highly interactive and the AI is solid. This game is what true stealth fans have been waiting for.
Creativity is key.
Mark of the Ninja is done in the same cartoon-y style that Shank and Shank 2 were done in, but as we know a cartoon-y style can still look darn good. Mark of the Ninja is no exception. Sure most of the guards look the same but the environments look good and above all are cleverly designed (which I went over pretty heavily in the game play section but it IS very important). The game's lighting effects are pretty much perfect. I would have liked a little more variety in the places you go to and visit, as what is in the game can be somewhat repetitive. Still, it looks good and is very creative so the lack of variety is forgivable.
Stealth is silent.
Most games are benefited by a good soundtrack. In fact, the sound track can change a game from average to memorable in a heart beat. Stealth games, however, encounter a problem with sound, and especially in a game like Mark of the Ninja where sound plays such a big part of the game play. So it's understandable that the majority of the game is silent. There are music tracks however, though they are relegated to only the dramatic / dangerous parts of the game and story. As such you can expect a lot of heavy string pieces. There's around a dozen tracks in the game total and they are pretty catchy for the most part. There's a lot of eastern instruments and influence in some of the tracks, but there's also a lot of repeated themes which is very noticeable in a soundtrack that spans 11 tracks. The voice acting in the game is relatively sparse (your main character never talks) but what is there is good. Thankfully all of the haiku's are read to you which is neat.
Gotta get all those seals!
Mark of the ninja isn't terribly long, and you can easily beat it in 2-3 days of trying depending on how much you re-play levels. Like I mentioned earlier there is a running score for each stage along with three specific challenges and three hidden seals. I didn't mention that one of these seals is hidden in a shrine where you'll have a unique challenge area that often gives you a puzzle to solve. But with all of those things in a single level you can bet that you're going to miss some seals along the way. Thankfully, in large part due to the RPG aspect of the game, going back and re-playing levels is quite entertaining. As you'll play you'll also unlock new outfits which not only make you look different but also give you certain perks. For example one outfit may make your run silently but will take away your sword. All of this leads to some decent re-playability which is always appreciated.
Overall the game play is what makes Mark of the Ninja really shine. If you consider yourself a fan of stealth there's no question: this game is for you and you should go out and buy it today if you can. Even if you're not a hardcore fan of stealth there is still a lot of fun to be had here if you can appreciate it. Many aspects of this game are fairly average in titles today but the fantastic game play alone is enough for me to recommend looking into this title. I believe it's regular price on Steam is $14.99, so if you're hesitant you could always wait for a Steam sale but whatever you do keep this game on your radar. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/13
Game Release: Mark of the Ninja (US, 10/16/12)
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