Mark of the Ninja is a 2D stealth platform game that premiered on Xbox Live a few months ago. Now it’s finally snuck its way up to Steam, PC gamers can finally anxiously peek out from a shrubbery to take a look. Is this is a target worth pouncing on or a shmuck best left alone to walk the corridors of mediocrity for the rest of gaming history?
If you talk to a fan of the stealth genre (Assuming you can pull them out of the ventilation shaft far enough) and get them started on modern ‘stealth’ games, you’ll get a lecture about Splinter Cell and Hitman, and how pretend-stealth games like Dishonored and Arkham Asylum don’t really count. It’s true that most of the long-established stealth franchises have crept into more versatile territory to account for modern gamers getting lazier/impatient, but Mark of the Ninja has none of that. You’re a ninja in a modern world, equipped with all the stuff you’d expect a ninja to keep in his pockets, fighting guards with guns who will shoot you on sight – and there are no health bars here. Taking a bullet to the face has the rather immediate effect of killing you.
Despite the finality of being discovered, you never feel like you’re outnumbered or as though the game is throwing too much at you, because it does an excellent job of clearly signposting and clarifying the mechanics of its stealth. There’s a simple light/dark mechanic in which your nameless ninja vanishes almost entirely in shadow, but appears in full detail in light, so you can always clearly see when you can and cannot be seen. Line of sight is handled masterfully, especially within a 2D game. You can’t see what’s going on in the room below you if you’re not peeking down at it – all you see are red silhouettes pointing out a guard’s last known position and the small circles representing footsteps. It makes planning out your attacks a much more think-on-your-feet deal and Sounds are represented visually with circles that denote their range, so for when you start picking up firecrackers to distract guards you can easily plot out what they can and can’t hear.
A big concern when approaching a 2D platformer on PC is that gamepad controls almost never translate properly to the keyboard and mouse. Just look at Klei Entertainment’s previous games, Shank and Shank 2 for a prime example. Shank was a button mashing gorefest, but Mark of the Ninja is much more precise – and the keyboard/mouse combination work beautifully for once. The controls are simple but flexible, perhaps because melee combat is almost entirely absent aside from the simple one button stealth kills. It’s a real credit to Klei that it feels so precise, especially when compared to Shank, and the game itself proves satisfying level after level.
Visually, the game looks like it’s just run away from Cartoon Network’s edgier roster of shows. Cutscenes are vivid, energetic cartoons that match up to the level’s aesthetics seamlessly, and the blood and gore is much played down – there’s a little blood spray every now and then but it never approaches gory. In fact, it could probably do with a few more combat animations to keep things fresh for those taking the lethal approach.
For the true stealth nuts, there are of course rewards for ‘ghosting’ a level (Going completely unseen without killing any guards), but there are several other ways to approach getting a high score, too. Stealth kills obviously play a large role in this, as it’s possible to botch up an execution if you misjudge the mouse click. You’ll still kill the guard, but it’ll be messy and you’ll lose out on points whereas a perfectly executed kill results in a silent, clean death and double the score. If you completely fudge the attack, you end up weightlessly flailing at the dude with your fists until he falls over and you have to stab him on the floor, at which point “Peasant’s Death” pops up and makes you feel bad about your life. There are bonus objectives and collectables scattered throughout levels which offer some replay value, though you might not feel that strongly about Mark of the Ninja, as good as it is. There isn’t much characterization, as is evident in the main character lacking a name, let alone a voice, and it makes a very good game quite forgettable past the initial glee of being a ninja. That alone is no detriment to the game itself, but it would have been great to feel more compulsion to revisit it. All in all, it’s a great stealth game, in that the stealth part is a necessity (And therefore built into the core of the gameplay) rather than just an option for when you don’t feel like stabbing everything that breathes instead.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.
Buy the game on steam here http://store.steampowered.com/app/214560/