Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Release Date: 10/16/2012
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Klei Entertainment has had a pretty bad reputation with the not-so-great Shank series. It is a huge surprise that Mark of the Ninja turned out so well, in fact, probably one of the best indie games to come out this year. Mark of the Ninja succeeds in making you feel like a true ninja with great stealth mechanics, puzzles, and skill moves. However, Klei still needs to hire a new story writer because it isn’t very interesting. You are a ninja who is going after someone and you have tattoos that give you powers, and that’s pretty much it. You should play this for the action because that’s all you will care about anyway.
The game uses light and dark very well. The game is 2D so everything around you is dark. You have to avoid enemies by climbing up walls, and ceilings, hiding in ducts, and even in objects. The game has a great kill mechanic where you press the kill button, but time slows so you can press a combo of a direction and the kill button that pops up on the screen. This feels very satisfying and should be incorporated into more games like this. You have some weapons in your arsenal such as darts that can be used to distract guards by taking out lights, luring them into traps, and many other things. You get smoke bombs, mines, and even an ability to see everything around you and teleport. That is what a ninja is really like, and I haven’t played a game yet that makes me feel like one (sorry Ninja Gaiden).
The controls are silky smooth if a little sticky when clinging to walls and objects. As you progress you can level up by completing optional objectives and finding hidden scrolls throughout the levels. You can acquire new moves like killing from above, snagging enemies while hiding, etc. You can even unlock more ninja weapons and gadgets for your arsenal. The whole system works really well and the gameplay is just so addictive. There are multiple ways to approach objectives, but you can never fight head-on. That is what I like about this game. If you are caught you need to flee and hide until the enemies settle back down. Just a couple of shots will kill you. Thankfully checkpoints are very fair unlike the Shank games and don’t set you back too far.
Puzzles are pretty fun in this game because they require reflexes more than anything. Hitting tripwires may send arrows flying at you, but there’s a crank that pulls a box up along a wall to block them. Cranking it up as you climb the wall is the way to go, but some get really tricky but are fun to solve. This game is just pure fun and I felt like a ninja the whole way through. No guns, no super fast martial arts, just stealth, sneaking, and being a part of the shadows.
The graphics are beautiful and actually are part of the gameplay. Everything seems dark and shadowed, but when things are in the light they are fully revealed. The only thing visible to you in the shadows are your glowing red tattoos which are really neat. My only complaints are the story and there really isn’t enough variety in enemies. I wanted to see more, and the overall game just gets repetitive towards the end, but if the story were better you wouldn’t feel that way.
With great ninja gameplay, smooth controls, fun stealth mechanics, and interesting puzzles, Mark of the Ninja proves to be one of the best indie/arcade games this year. For the low price, you have nothing to lose except a few hours of having a lot of fun.