Version tested: PC
Ninjas are masters of stealth and shadow, so why do a majority of video games that features ninjas go for the “open combat I’m gonna stab everyone in the face” route? You’d think that they’d make the perfect centerpiece for any stealth game. Thank god for Klei Entertainment then. The Shank creators came to the rescue with Mark of the Ninja (MotN). A 2D side-scrolling stealth game featuring of course, a ninja (whose name is not Mark but should have been).
Being the creators of Shank, MotN shares the same beautiful gory bloody art style and is just a marvel to look at. It being a 2D side scroller, I was at first a little skeptical about its stealth mechanics but after giving it a go, I was pleasantly surprised by the way it incorporated stealth in a 2D plane and I can only say kudos to Klei for an excellent job.
All the usual stealth elements can be found here, sound, lighting, hiding bodies and way more. It was so perfectly executed and being a side-scroller actually helped in my opinion as it forced me to really survey the entire level and I looked at it as more of a puzzle than anything else. You will have a bunch of items and traps at your disposal to dispatch the baddies and you can even use scare tactics allowing you to sneak behind for a kill or let him shoot blindly hitting his allies.
This is purely a stealth game, get seen by a guard and your powerful ninja will be reduced to nothing but a pool of blood. Just as it should be when you bring a hammer (sword) to a gunfight. One of the main reasons the stealth mechanics feels perfect is due to the level design, most of the time giving you a myriad of options to choose from either to take out the guards one by one or to just plain avoid them.
The game rewards those that explore and often you will find an easier route via a vent if you just look hard enough. There are also secrets scattered around the levels for those that like those sorts of things which includes enemy free puzzle levels. The game however is not perfect (but it was pretty close though), its checkpoint saving system was a little frustrating and I would’ve appreciated a ‘save anywhere’ feature. But its not exactly a deal breaker and it won’t render you bald from pulling your hair out due to frustration.
At times, the game’s masterfully level designing was pretty non-existent and forced me to go through linearity of having only one predetermined solution. Another thing was the controls, it occasionally misinterpreted what I wanted to do, be it jumping, going through vents or something similar to those resulting in me making a grand entrance into a room where all the guard’s attention was on me.
However, Mark of the Ninja is a superb title, indie or otherwise and is definitely one of the best games to be released in 2012. The great non-linear level design and the fun of figuring out how to get through a room without leaving in a body bag makes this one a winner. It’s available on for the Xbox 360 via XBLA and PC via Steam.