Since the original Metal Gear, stealth games have been weighted with annoyances that held the genre back from breaking the niche that they have built themselves in. The trial and error style of play alienates most of the gameplay elements that gamers have become accustomed to. Klei Entertainment decided that they wanted to take a stab at the genre with the XBLA game: Mark of the Ninja.
The title of the game explains the premise adequately well. You are an unnamed ninja, in which you are “marked” with tattoos that grant you with stealth-like abilities. The tattoo has an adverse effect, though. Your character will start to become unstable and eventually have to perform seppuku. Also, your clan has come under attack by some bad dudes, and it’s up to you to strike back. If Mark of the Ninja has a weak point, it’s most definitely the plot. I had no interest in any of the story beats, as I became very tempted to skip the cutscenes. Other than that, the story plays a small part compared to Mark of the Ninja’s well executed gameplay.
If you have seen or played either of the Shank games, you will understand exactly how Mark of the Ninja works. You are placed on a 2-D space in which you platform across buildings and alleyways. Locomotion is well-implemented thanks to some handy ninja tools, such as the nifty grappling hook. The nameless ninja can crawl through vents, or perch upon power lines, bringing you to the reality that you really are playing a ninja-based game.
Each level contains an assortment of traps, puzzles and plenty of baddies to overcome. It is up to you exactly how you want to perform these tasks depending on your preferred playstyle. You can avoid every enemy and be rewarded with a bonus at the end of the level, or you can hunt down and slaughter every baddie your ninja comes across.
As a deadly ninja assassin, you are given a myriad of tools and weapons that assist you on the various environments and enemies that you come across. Each of them will help you with distracting or simply slaughtering opponents. Mark of the Ninja displays each and every sound anything in the game makes with visual representations of sound shown as yellow rings. This helps make the typical fare of trial and error much less troublesome that are evident in most stealth games. The same can be said for when you are attempting to hide and your character is shown in a darker form. These are just small mechanics that make Mark of the Ninja a smartly designed game.
Soldiers act like typical stealth enemies, they have a particular walking pattern that you can take advantage of. Mark of the Ninja encourages heavily on taking out foes quietly, as a stealth game should. You are also given many ways to distract them by taking out lights, leading them into traps, or simply scaring soldiers by hanging bodies from lampposts. Possibilities are endless.
If you would’ve told me that the cutscenes in Mark of the ninja were originally from a Saturday morning cartoon, I would believe you. The games animations are clean and convincing, while the music and sound design do their parts adequately.
What Mark of the Ninja accomplishes is something that the stealth genre has been lacking. The game streamlines and polishes mechanics that have not been refined for quite some time. The fact that the game is strictly 2-D also makes the game that much more accessible to play. If it’s been awhile since you last played a stealth game, or you have never touched one, I can safely say that Mark of the Ninja is a well crafted stealth game.