Mark of the Ninja
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+
AMD Radeon HD 5000
If you put some definite, non-rule 3 related research into the Internet, you will come to know that actual ninjas dressed like regular ass peons and used improvised weapons. This is why they were so effective and undetectable and not because of black garments, smoke bombs and demon foxes. Mark of the Ninja does not follow the historic route, but damn does it emphasize the stealth thing.
Like any good game, MoN (MotN?) starts with a nameless protagonist. He wakes up after having passed out from receiving a tattoo. Turns out, the ninja base is under attack! So he collects his stuff, kills everyone and saves his master. Now his task is to track down and defeat the man that sent the mercenaries after the ninjas. And, oh yeah, while the ninjas are still with swords and darts, the mercs lug around assault rifles and have crammed their bases full of tripwires, turrets and other implements of fun. Good luck, you nameless bastard, since the tattoo that gives you powers will also drive you insane. Momma always said not to touch the blood of the darkspawn, but nooo...
That’s how ninjas make sushi.
Ahem. At any rate, this is a sidescroller stealth platformer. You read me. The controls are easy to learn and to master, though for some unknown reason the game started showing me Xbox controls instead of normal PC ones. Then again, I did plug in a joystick in a vain attempt to learn piloting in Planetside 2 so that I could ram fighter craft into transport planes... At any rate, the controls are real easy and you won’t end up doing stuff you don’t want just because you mixed up the buttons.
The ninja has many powers in his disposal. He sticks to most walls and ceilings, since a tattoo from a trippy venomous flower = Spider-Man. He can use a grappling hook to reach ledges and such, which makes for some quick movement. Combine that with the ability to see sound bubbles that the enemies make while walking and peering out of ventilation shafts and you have a ninja that can outstealth anyone. Of course, time may come when killing is necessary, so the ninja can one-hit kill anyone he sneaks upon. There’s an easy quick-time event for that, and if you botch it, the other guards might notice the sounds. Also, that’s just poor performance from you.
Of course, the better the score, the more ability unlocks you’ll get. You can upgrade your ninja with many new powers, like killing from various concealed positions. Doing optional objectives (kill X amount of guards, break Z amount of lights, remain undetected) also help, since they give their respective seals and those can be used to get new costumes, yay!
While you may look swanky, the enemy is still a threat. It starts with random mercs carrying assault rifles and moves up there. The standard mook is more than capable of taking down a ninja from afar, so be careful and don’t provoke a battle. After all, alarms cause such a big point malus (it’s the opposite of bonus, kids! The more you know...)! There are many ways to deal with guards, from the aforementioned stealth kills, to distractions, to dropping the corpses of their compatriots in front of them and making them panic. Then again, I’m a stealthy ninja, I don’t partake in such foolishness!
Though the quicktime kills are great, since they are like little cutscenes, they do start to repeat themselves. The game’s artistic feel is great, reminds me of Samurai Jack and of Penny Arcade’s more serious ventures. The sound direction is also superb. The only detraction is the use of use key - you hide, open doors and drag bodies with it. It gets little mixed up sometimes, but there’s nothing you couldn’t ninja around.
Mark of the Ninja is well worth all the pretty moneys that you posh Westernfolk can pay for it. It’s a tight, smart game with a spot innovation and some excellent art. Oh, and ninjas (who can’t get you if you’re the Emperor’s finest).
- Easy to learn: Not much to be said here, the controls are clear and easy
- Awesome art: The 2D drawings are spot on. I can see this game ageing very well
- Smooth running: Nary a bug encountered
- Fun: Especially the killing
- Ninjas: If you like ‘em, the game’s for you
- Control mix up: There is some of that with the use key
The biggest problem in Mark of the Ninja is how effortless it makes everything feel. Every core component of the game is intelligently and stylishly done. Each component could be abstracted down to lines and shapes, and it would still be satisfying to play. The play on light creates a dramatic and immediate contrast that gives you a lot of information at a glance. Guards lines of sight, footsteps, and your visibility are all unambiguously telegraphed, providing you with enough information so that every mistake is yours. This of course makes it even more jarring when those mistakes aren’t yours. On occasion, I found myself struggling with the contextual controls, getting stuck in vents because bodies would block the exit and prevent me from performing the context sensitive action that would allow me to exit. At times, I also became confused by the multitude of changing mouse and keyboard actions, not quite sure which key was the right one, yet it’s a problem that was easily solved by plugging in a controller. Along with the menu design, it betrays the fact that MoN was developed with a console focus.
There were also a few nitpicks I had as well. Despite having the option to go non-lethal, it’s a definitely focused on the assassination approach. Of course, all those tools feel extraneous for the most part. You are more than capable of taking apart the enemy with the most basic of tools. Overall, Mark of the Ninja is still a slick entry in a genre often ignored by the industry today, and should definitely be applauded regardless of the not quite right details.
When I saw Mark of the Ninja trailer for the first time, I said this must be Klei Entertainment, the developers of Shank. And indeed it was. The art style, even though anything super special, is iconic to Klei. Keeping the same visual style developers managed to improve on the looks by playing with light, dark and shadows, and it even plays a role in the gameplay too. The great animations, cutscenes and music will keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat.
If you could compare Shank to a psycho then MotN is a mad genius. Kills have gained a sort of sophistication. Stealth mechanics, even though not perfect, seem like an evolutionary step forward. You will have multiple tools and abilities that will help you through your journey. The journey that can be played just casually for fun with a bit more effort than Farmville or, if you are so inclined, can be grinded to perfection in complete ninja style. I just wish I could rewind that last moment where I slipped and got detected just right before slitting the throat of that henchmen. -800 points for me then.