Mark of the Ninja Impressions – Old School Stealth

For me, Mark of the Ninja is a game that just kind of sprung up on me.  I began to hear more and more about it after Gamescom and with the promise of 3D stealth gameplay in a 2D package with the visual art style of Shank, I was fully on board.  Coming from the guys at Klei, who also put out Shank 1 and 2, they’ve managed to create a stealth game that harkens back to the old school days where getting spotted is most likely a death sentence.  To balance that, they’ve added a number of very slick visual aids that augments the already solid gameplay.

You play a ninja who bears the Mark, a tattoo that provides you heightened senses but it’ll eventually take your life.  Instead of being all depressed about it sitting at home, you’re sent out by your clan to exact revenge on a corporation who attacked your home and puts your group at risk.  In a cool nod to Shank, the main character has the color red on his head to look very similar to Shank’s bandana.  The only thing Shank and Mark of the Ninja have in common is the art style.  It’s beautiful, especially the cutscenes and fluidity of the animations.  If you’ve played or seen Shank in action, you know what you’re getting here.  Your eyes will thank you.

Mark of the Ninja can also be described as Shank’s polar opposite.  While Shank encourages getting in there and mixing it up, doing that in Ninja will result in a quick death.  Your best bet is sticking to the shadows and doing your work.  The game allows for all kinds of different stealth play styles whether you like to Ghost levels and avoid combat or you’re a person who enjoys taking guys out without being spotted.  Based on things that you do, you’re rewarded with points which you’ll be able to spend on upgrades or new items.  From what I’ve played so far, there’s a ton of cool items and moves you’ll be able to use, but the game introduces you to them slowly so not to overwhelm you.  They also take core stealth mechanics like line of sight and sound, and provide a clever visual cue.  Guards have a visual marker for their line of sight, last known position has a pulsating yellow radius and sound emits a radius based on how loud or soft it is.  It’s very clever and much appreciated as it takes the guess work out of playing.

Levels are also really well made with multiple paths, objects to interact with, and collectables to discover.  Stuck?  Look for another way around.  Maybe hide behind that potted plant and wait for that guard to turn his back.  Special kills can be initiated when you’re just close enough to your target and performing the simple button prompt results in a very cool and quiet kill.  Miss the button combo and you’ll get the kill but it won’t be quiet.  While this close kill is cool, I do wish there was a little more variety in the animations as I’ve really only seen two so far.  Still, the animations are beautiful so it’s only just nitpicking.

Overall, I’m very pleasantly surprised by the level of polish on display with Klei’s Mark of the Ninja.  It has a fantastic visual style and the gameplay is really the purest form of stealth, where uncertainty and death tug at you around every corner.  With New Game + available and challenges that mix up how you play, there’s a ton of content waiting for you.  If you enjoy stealth gameplay there’s really no better choice for 15 bucks.  It’s available now on Xbox Live Arcade.

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