Mark of the Ninja
Absolutely incredible. Those two words perfectly describe Mark of the Ninja
for the PC. The game is a near perfect blend of stealth, action, beautiful visuals, and 2D platforming all contained in one amazing bundle.
Released early in September on the Xbox Live Arcade, Mark of the Ninja is now ready to appear on the PC, through Steam, with improved visuals, Steam achievements, and support for a keyboard and mouse. With a price set at just $14.99 (USD), you will be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable experience that blends the aforementioned genres together. The beauty of Mark of the Ninja is that you actually feel like a badass ninja as you move swiftly through the levels, sneaking in and out of shadows, assassinating enemies, taking out lights and traps, and just generally having a damn good time.
Klei Entertainment took some of the best stealth elements from other titles such as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, and flattened them down into a truly enjoyable 2D experience. No, the lack of an entire dimension does not take anything away from the game, far from it. If anything, the 2D aspect eliminates some of the issues of spatial awareness that 3D games tend to falter on when stealth is key. This lets the player focus more on their target or goal and less on fighting with the camera or worrying about what some "stealth gauge" HUD element tells them.
Stealth comes in multiple forms in Mark of the Ninja. Shadows are the obvious one, with your character being able to hide in doorways, behind objects located in the foreground of the screen, up on rafters, in vents, and many others. However, beyond shadows, sound is also a huge part of the stealth element in the game. On screen, sounds from footsteps, glass breaking, and other objects is shown with a brief onscreen visible sound wave. The ring of sound is a great visual indicator for letting you know if an enemy will be within earshot of a noise. If they're close enough to a sound source, then chances are they will become slightly alerted and will go over to investigate. Use this time to move on or as a trap mechanic to sneak up behind a distracted guard to take them out with a blade to the back.
There are various objects within the environment that can be interacted with in a few meaningful ways. For instance, lights can be shot out with little bamboo darts, creating more areas of shadow in which to sneak around in. Just don't forget that the noise can and will alert nearby guards. Laser traps are also another favorite defensive tool in the game. What will you do, use a smoke bomb to creep past them or attempt to find an alternate route? Perhaps you'll even manage to simply find the power box and take those lasers out for good.
See, part of the beauty in Mark of the Ninja is the fact that many areas can be tackled in a number of different ways. Overall, it is a fairly linear game but you are rewarded for exploring off the beaten path. Abilities and items can be improved, hidden shrines can be discovered, and bonus areas are sporadically hidden within the levels. Tailor the new ability unlocks to your particular play style and you can really create a character that works for you. Scores are dished out at the end of each level, with bonuses rewarded for not killing enemies or at least keeping the body count very low. If you aren't too concerned about your score, then by all means, assassinate until you can't possibly assassinate any more. Just be careful because while you are very adapt at the stealth kill, your character is about as durable as a piece of paper once the bullets start flying out of the enemies' guns.
Visually, Mark of the Ninja is a very good looking title. Everything looks as though it was painstakingly hand drawn from scratch with some very fluid animations thrown in for good measure. The game zooms in each time you brutally assassinate someone, highlighting the particularly violent nature of your actions. The only problem is that some of the beautifully detailed backgrounds fade into obscurity as you are almost always more focused on the action immediately in front of you. Line of sight is used to great effect here, both for you and the enemies. Areas that you cannot see are dimmed slightly and any important objects or enemies are not shown on screen, outside of the occasional sound wave from a footstep. Peeking out from vents and doors will allow you to see areas without giving away your position.
It's difficult to find much to fault here with the game. There are only a couple of minor letdowns in the entire package deal. Some of the animated cutscenes are not really my cup of tea. They do fit in well with the gameplay segments, but they just didn't do it for me. This is obviously a personal preference and one that not everyone will agree with. Secondly, I'm not entirely sure why one of the main characters has a bit of an Australian accent when being spoken from an obviously Asian character. Though amusing at times, it does tend to take me out of the moment. It's just a good thing that everything else is so incredibly well done and more than makes up for these minor nit-picks.
Continue on to page two of our Mark of the Ninja review for the PC...