previews\ Apr 18, 2012 at 11:27 am

Mark of the Ninja hands-on


I adore stealth games. Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Thief, Tenchu, were all games I adored, simply for the ability to kill my victims from the shadows. Klei Entertainment, most notably known for their over the top and bloody Shank games, are taking a different approach this time. Instead of hacking and slashing any and every enemy on screen, you're now stalking your prey in the dark, waiting to strike with extreme precision, and then once again disappear into the shadows. This is Mark of the Ninja.

We were able to play through the first level of the game which not only familiarized us with the new protagonist, but his skill sets as well. This game is all about staying hidden, as a stealth game should be. Since your enemies are armed with guns, our sword equipped Ninja doesn't stand much of a chance when coming to face to face with one. A Ninja is always prepared for occasions such as these and his equipment, and quick reflexes will ensure his survival.

The Ninja is equipped with a few essential things. Obviously his sword is your main weapon with which you will spill most of your enemies' blood. Coming up behind your enemy and attempting an assassination will also prompt a direction press. Failing to do this will break your assassination and keep the enemy alerted at which point your best bet is to run and hide. Another tool at your disposal are throwing knives. Rather than using them for killing, they are used to distract your enemies. For instance you can throw a knife into the nearby lamp post which will turn the guard around, letting you sneak up to him and confirm the kill.

Besides the stealth action elements, the levels themselves are quite the showstoppers. They have some verticality to them which opens up alternate paths that you can take to reach your goal. I admire Klei's ability to show all the necessary information to the player on screen, without it clogging up the screen. For instance, to signify that you're completely hidden from enemies, the level layout and architecture will turn completely black. Sound rings will appear around you or enemies that are being particularly noisy and vision cones will signify how far the enemy can see.

The developer told us that it took quite some time to refine how Mark of the Ninja was played, and how the various stealth elements work in a 2D space. When thinking of a stealth game, there are a lot of factors that don't translate as well into a 2D game as they do into games like MGS and Splinter Cell. But I have to say, everything came together beautifully and this is one stealth game that shouldn't be missed.

Mark of the Ninja has a planned release for this Summer exclusively on XBLA.

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Mike Splechta GameZone's review copy hoarding D-bag extraordinaire! Follow me @MichaelSplechta
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