Mark of the Ninja review
Oh, Klei Entertainment, you sneaky devils. First you get our blood rising with not one but two macho Contra-style action games, Shank and Shank 2. Then, just when you think you'll go all bad-ass with another straightforward action game, you instead put together one of the best ninja adventures in years, one that could even give Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa the cold sweats. Mark of the Ninja is the kind of sweet stealth action game that truly makes you feel like a ninja -- and in 2D, no less.
The plot deals with traditional ninja themes -- a noble warrior sets out to prove loyalty to his clan, while slicing through those that oppose it like warm butter -- but the action is really the main attraction in Mark of the Ninja. Here, you'll want to use as much real strategy as you can to score the most points, as it continuously grows over the course of a level. Not only do you achieve a score for dispatching a guard, but also for successfully hiding his body and not having a fellow soldier raise the alarm on you. This game rewards you for perfection, but, thankfully, doesn't demand it to get through the game.
In Mark of the Ninja, you have a number of techniques are quite useful for getting through each stage. You have your traditional sword, of course, but you have other tools in your favor, including a grappling hook that you can use in mid-air, to avoid hitting the ground; and darts that you can throw at objects nearby, such as a gong or a search light. Sometimes you can use these projectiles to get the guard in a killing position; other times you can hit a huge spotlight and make it topple your prey. The choice is yours.
But stealth is your main weapon. You can hide behind objects in the environment (which, inexplicably, the guards can't look around) and then strike from behind, or hide behind grates in the walls and floors and then pop up when least expected. You also have the ability to run, but you give off sound when you do so, through an excellent sound-wave system that surrounds your player, letting you know which guards are alerted. Remember, stealth is your friend.
Now, if you ARE spotted, you can either fight the guard to the ground or go for a kill with diminished points, or disappear out of sight, Solid Snake style, then watch as they go back along their route. Fighting hand-to-hand is probably the weakest factor of the game, though, as you'll be killed with two to three bullets easily. Ninja Gaiden this isn't.
Klei has done an amazing job with Ninja's gameplay. It really feels like you're in control of a suave warrior, especially when you use the Focus technique, where time slows down and you're able to get off more accurate shots on power boxes, gongs and possible threats. New weapons open up over the course of the game, including awesome smoke bombs that make you feel like a ninja. And even swordplay has some trickiness to it, as you have to hold the analog stick the right way and hit the attack button to get off the "perfect" kill. It sounds demanding, but it's all put together into a control scheme that's great fun.
Mark of the Ninja also has a solid presentation. Like Shank, the game features exquisite hand-drawn animation and 2D style scrolling backgrounds, but has some neat tricks to its own, like how the lighting changes depending on where you're able to see or not, giving you the true perception of a ninja. Sometimes it's a little confusing finding your way out of a level, but that gives you room to explore and maybe find bonus artifacts.
As for the sound, some great traditional ninja tunes are included, stuff that's well worth cutting to. The dialogue and sound effects are great too, even if some folks won't really think they're a level above what you'd find in a bad kung fu film. Regardless, it's true to the content at hand.
Though Mark of the Ninja doesn't have online multiplayer (ninja versus ninja would've been wicked), it does have online leaderboards, and also provides point bonuses for not raising any alarms or even killing anyone in the stage. These challenges are certainly worth it, especially if you're in the mood to obtain some bragging rights.
Klei already set the bar for 2D gaming with its Shank series, but goes even a step further with the awesome Mark of the Ninja. If Ninja Gaiden 3 was a little too action packed for you, and you prefer the Tenchu style of getting the job done, this game could very well be your best friend. And we could all use a ninja as a best friend, right?