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Mark of the Ninja – Xbox 360

Mark of the Ninja – Xbox 360

Mark of the NinjaPlatform: Xbox 360 (Live Arcade)

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Release Date: September 7, 2012

Genre: 2D Stealth

Rating: 8/10

When one pictures the image of the ninja, what concepts come to mind? Probably visions of the mysterious warrior creeping through the shadows, silently stalking his prey as he moves ever closer to the desires of his clan’s master. There is swordplay, however, it’s over in an instant. A fleeting moment of violence and skill that passes before its ramifications have registered in the mind of the intended target.

Quick. Silent. Deadly.

That is the essence of being a ninja.

In our art medium of gaming, we have had a number of series pay homage to the black-clad warriors. Ninja Gaiden, Strider, Shinobi, Tenchu, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have all given us a chance to walk in the shadows. So it’s odd to me that all of those games, with the exception of Tenchu, have been presented as action games geared towards hacking your way through as many bodies as loudly as possible. The argument can be made that Tenchu is the exception because it was developed after the technology of games had matured enough to allow a new expression in design; i.e. silently moving through a 3D world.

Mark-of-the-Ninja-61

Try and stay out of the light as much as possible

So that’s why Mark of the Ninja is so refreshing. It’s a game that marries the classic conventions of 2D gaming with the advances of 3D design found in games like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. (Or Tenchu)

Lucky for us, the marriage is a pretty good match.

The key to a good stealth action game is tension. Progression is slow and steady because you never know what may be lurking around the corner. Mark of the Ninja succeeds in creating that needed tension, which is quite remarkable considering it’s never really been done like this in a 2D game. Each new room brings with it a fresh set of challenges and obstacles. Whether it’s trying to get past the guards, who are watching (and listening) for you, laser traps, guard dogs etc, each moment has to be carefully planned and executed. Luckily you have a number of tools and skills at your disposal. You’re able to climb up walls, hang from ceilings, use a nifty grappling hook, or throwing darts to make your way through each level, and that’s just at the start. As you make your way through the game you will earn points that can be used to purchase new tools or skills. Items like smoke bombs or noise makers, and abilities like being able to pull a guard through a vent or execute a surprise kill from a hiding spot add a lot of diversity to how you complete each level. There is something really cool about entering a room with three guards, placing a trap at one point in the room, then using a throwing dart to knock out a light which brings one of the guards over to investigate, stepping right into your trap and killing him, then watching as the two other guards get so terrified that one of them shoots the other one, leaving that one last sucker for you to dangle upside down and slaughter. The game lets you get creative with it and that just makes you want to keep on playing.

This poor guard is going to earn his paycheck the hard way

This poor guard is going to earn his paycheck the hard way

The levels themselves are laid out beautifully with multiple paths available and a number of secrets to find. It doesn’t quite reach the level of “Metroidvania” in its layout, but it does allow you to explore the world in the same way that Metal Gear would. Each level also has a hidden challenge room to find – a deviously clever single room that is pure puzzle gold. It kind of reminded me of the “old school challenge” levels  that were found in Super Mario Sunshine. (How’s that for an obscure reference)

There is also a welcome amount of platforming required in the game as well, with some sections (especially in the secret rooms) providing a fair challenge for even this jaded old gamer.

Direct combat is available, but since this is a stealth game it’s highly discouraged. If you do get caught by a guard, it’s best to run and hide and wait for a better moment to strike. Getting spotted will trigger a countdown alert timer a la Metal Gear, and the guards will do their best to try and find you. A direct confrontation will most likely result in death. If you do go down in battle the re-spawn points are pretty numerous, so at least you won’t have too much backtracking to do to get back to where you were previously.

mon 429771

Artistically, Mark of the Ninja looks a lot like a darker version of one of Klei’s other games, Shank. It has sort of a high-quality comic book look to it, with bold lines and really nice animation. The color palette is pretty dark, which is to be expected, so the color that does come through adds a nice stark contrast. I’d honestly love to see a graphic novel come out based on this game.

There isn’t a whole lot in the way of music to the game, eschewing it in favor of ambient sounds which serve as a way to heighten the tension and not distract you from your stealthy movements.

There really isn’t a whole lot about this game to not like. The one knock that I would have is that when you sneak up and take out a guard, you get to do a little quick time press which will give a stylish kill animation. It’s cool in a brutal way the first few times you see it, but unfortunately there isn’t any variety to them. You end up watching that same little animation over and over. It’s not a terrible detriment, but it’s such a cool bonus and adds so much to the mystique of being a bad-ass ninja, that you just want to see more of them.

It's Spider-Ninja!!

It’s Spider-Ninja!!

 

Also, it would be cool to see a bit more variation in both the enemy types and some of the different traps. There are a lot of get-past-the-laser moments in the game.

Overall, Mark of the Ninja is a fantastic retro style, 2D game that has been created using the techniques and philosophies of what we have learned in the 3D age. Its mixture of stealth, platforming, puzzle solving, and action blended together into an excellent piece of gaming art that makes you really feel like the ninja you always knew you were born to be.

Don’t Miss it!

Mark of the Ninja is available through XBox Live as well as Steam.

Nerd Rating: 8/10

The Watchman

Written by The Watchman

The Watchman


The Watchman is a journeyman gamer who has seen and played a good chunk of gaming history.
He’s also an actor, a reporter, a pro wrestling connoisseur, and some say he’s a cat whisperer.
If you have any questions or just want to drop me a line, hit me up at thewatchman@nerdbacon.com
Or follow me on Twitter @DavetheWatchman
You can also game with me!
Look me up on Xbox Live @ DJKhadoken
Or on PlayStation Network @ Eaglevision_dl

 
 

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One Comment

  1. Dude I never played this game but I watched my buddy play it and damn it’s a fine game. I love the simple, yet detailed graphics, and the use of creating diversions/decoy sounds to sneak up on an enemy. Great review! Good game choice!

     

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