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Mark of the Ninja
You are a ninja, sworn to protect your clan and your honor as you accept the Mark. Taking the form of a tattoo, the Mark will eventually drive you mad as it consumes you with power and bestows upon you great ability.
So begins Klei Entertainment’s Mark of the Ninja, a downloadable game just as ambitious and deep as its retail counterparts.
Borrowing from the mythic lore of Japanese ninja clans, you accept the role of a ninja warrior as he seeks to take out his clan’s enemy by doing what ninjas do best: using the darkness and sneaking around. Stealth is the most important part of Mark of the Ninja, and it’ll punish you severely for carelessness or reckless abandon.
Presented in a side-scrolling 2D art style, you’ll use a grappling hook, cling to and climb up building sides, peek out of vents, and use sneak attacks and stealth tactics to reach the next mission objective in the story arc.
The platforming in Mark of the Ninja is smooth, fluid, and spremely satisfying. Moving with a cat-like agility and grace, you’ll sneak around guards, hide inside and behind items such as boxes, potted plants, and doorways, use distractions and set traps to avert the attention of your enemies, and use timing to score on silent, stylized kills.
The game’s masterful level design allows for players to approach it from myriad points; you can take out every guard between you and your objective, or you can try to take the more challenging non-lethal approach to the game. You can hide in doorways and vents, or you can use your grappling hook and stick to the ceiling to sneak through. You’ll have to watch out for flashlights and spotlights, also minding that you don’t make any noise as you stick to the darkness, as noise alerts the attention of the guards and makes them suspicious.
It takes on the same feeling and approach as a fantastic puzzle game; you’ll have to re-play through levels multiple times in order to successfully get past certain areas, but it never gets frustrating. Rather, you’ll have to study patterns, carefully time your movements, and use multiple items at your disposal in a more cerebral fashion as you approach each level like a puzzle. A fair bit of trial-and-error is involved to help you make it through. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and it’s nothing if not addicting.
Rather than strictly rewarding players for strictly lethal or non-lethal level completion, the game will reward you with points for each of your action taken. You’ll be rewarded for silent kills that don’t alert guards, going undetected as you hide from enemies, and you’ll even get points for taking precautionary measures such as hiding the corpses of the guards you’ve killed to keep the others from finding it. At the end of each level, you’ll then be presented with your stats, including how many guards you killed, alerted, and slipped past and how many points you managed to score. There’s a ton of replayability with this game, as you’ll be tempted to try different styles of play and always want to improve your score and successful traversal.
Different enemies and obstacles provide different challenges that keep the game interesting, never allowing the gameplay to get stale for a moment. Some enemies you’ll be able to take out at any time, while others you’ll have to attack from behind. Even more difficult are the dogs, who can smell and detect you when you enter within a certain radius of them. Knowing and learning the patterns and behaviors of each enemy type will help as you form your strategy for traversal.
Upgrades are also available to you with skill points earned from level completion and certain achievements. You’ll learn new moves, get new costumes, and develop new abilities as you upgrade your ninja to make him into a master of the shadows.
The game borrows its highly stylistic art design from Klei’s former brawler Shank, looking like a playable Cartoon Network show with super-fluid animation and an interesing aesthetic. It works well to give the game its own distinct personality, using some gritty, yet light elements to emphasize its fun and interesting nature. I encountered the odd bug here and there, but nothing that severely hindered gameplay in any way.
Mark of the Ninja is one of the most ambitious and engrossing games I’ve played this year. With masterful level design, seamless presentation, an interesting narrative, and stealth mechanics that would make even Metal Gear Solid blush, it’s some of the most fun you’ll have with a 2D sidescroller this year.