Mark of the Ninja Review

Justin Clouse | 16 Oct 2012 13:00
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These days we see a lot of "stealth games." You know the ones, where stealth is merely a bullet point and you can just as easily run and gun your way through. There's nothing wrong with these games, but for stealth to really resonate as gameplay you need a sense of vulnerability, something often lost in these hybrids that make combat an equally viable option. The developers at Klei Entertainment, who you might know from the Shank series, have built a true stealth title and what's a more perfect setup than the arguable archetype for stealth: ninjas.

The story of Mark of the Ninja spins a fun tale of revenge and skullduggery. It starts with the unnamed and tattooed protagonist waking up in the middle of attack. After saving his ninja clan, the player learns the tattoos signify this ninja as a champion. This comes at a cost though; the ink, made from a rare desert flower, grants incredible powers, but it also slowly drives these champions insane so their final act must always be to take their own life before the madness takes them. With that fated incentive in place, the ninja master orders him to track down the mercenaries responsible for attacking the clan and deliver some swift-and-silent-sword-to-the-face justice.

Mark of the Ninja's is a 2D action platformer and the main focus is on stealth. The unnamed protagonist personifies basically everything you've ever heard about ninjas, fictional or not. You can climb up sheer walls and along ceilings, dispatch enemies without making a sound and deploy all manner of ninja tools, like smoke bombs and grappling hooks. Many of your ninja tools are also in short supply, but have pretty important effects, like distracting a guard, despite being simple in nature. Though it's somewhat questionable that a smoke bomb or throwing darts at a wall can't also draw guard's attention like a noise making firecracker. It doesn't really hurt the game once you understand the balance implications, but it is logic breaking.

The game strikes a perfect balance of making you feel like a badass when everything's going well in stealth but also keeping you vulnerable to the guns the mercenaries are packing. You can dispatch enemies instantly if you're attacking from a hidden location or view, but you'll need to successfully pull off a QTE to determine if it was silent or if the guard gets off a yelp. If you do get detected, you're usually better off making a run for it than fighting it out toe to toe. It's this vulnerability that reinforces the focus on stealth, and every guard becomes a decision to risk an execution to eliminate them or to try and sneak past them entirely.

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