Mark of the Ninja Review (Xbox 360)
Mark of the Ninja is an excellent example of how less can mean more as it shows off a simplicity in its design that exemplifies the game in the tough market of the stealth genre. Mark of the Ninja doesn’t hold players back with trite concerns of ability or hampered level designs but rather focuses on what a Ninja should be able to do.
As The Champion you are chosen to protect your clan from evil that threatens to destroy your people. Sporting tattoos with mystical powers, you’re the most agile and deadly of your clan and yet are riddled with an ensuing psychosis as a side effect to the tattoos that threatens to overcome you before the mission is complete. In true 80s Samurai movie fashion, your foe is a business magnate set on destroying your clan and everything it has stood for over the centuries.
The simplistic nature of having a stealth-platformer in 2D pays off ten-fold, as the game offers branching paths with which to take through the game and challenges players to solve its set combat puzzles in different ways each time. Set in modern times, enemies are often armed with guns, shields and lights which they use with differing success to flush you out of the smallest of holes you find to hide in.
The level design offers players vastly different visuals throughout, which curbs any fears that the environments may become stale, and each level has a specific set of challenges that are unique. One time it will be lasers that stall your progress, the next will be Elite guards which require further thought and a secondary attack. Enemies will search if they catch a glimpse and try to flush you out if they suspect you’re near.
Dogs play a larger part later in the game, as their keen sense of smell make them near impossible to pass and their bark attracts the attention of all within a very large radius. Of course, as with any true Ninja, players can skip the combat and go around silently but for the longest time the drop down and stealth kill is a pleasure to behold and extremely satisfying to achieve.
It is perhaps accidental that Mark of the Ninja perfects something so few games have managed to get right over the years. The stealth mechanic is an absolute joy to use throughout even as the game becomes more challenging. Any noise will throw a circle up on screen showing you how far reaching your mistake has gone, giving you direct feedback for your actions.
Your character will be black with a very subtle outline when he is hidden and the colours on the screen will be darker; once you’re in light and visible to the enemy everything is thrown in to colour once again. These two very simple, yet elegant, visual elements solve multiple hours of frustration as you try and figure your way through sections, giving you the freedom to react quickly and effectively. The changes happen on your character – where you’re looking – not on some side menu which you’ll need to look away from the action to see.
Although some of the action is marred by poor camera design where it will decide you’re finished with a section and move on or struggle to keep up with you if you’re moving fast; an intermittent issue at best, that is often the fault of backtracking or searching for collectibles and taking the route less travelled.
Rarely is it a problem if you accidentally stroll into an unseen guard or off a ledge, as the game’s extremely generous checkpoint system means you’ll spend less time backtracking. Mark of the Ninja focuses on allowing the player to replay each encounter again and again until they get it the way they want it. Don’t hit all the stealth kills or make a jump and get seen? Hit restart Checkpoint and start again!
While the mechanics exemplify Mark of the Ninja as a great game, the story adds a lot of flavour instead of feeling like something bogged down with a lot of back story or history the game offers little pieces spread throughout excellent animated cutscenes that feel like a classic Samurai film or something from a TMNT Saturday morning special. More of the story can be discovered by way of collectible scrolls hidden throughout each level, which hint at twists and turmoil within the clan.
Although it’s easy to write Mark of the Ninja off as a simple 2D-Platformer at first glance, the excellent use of a stealth mechanic, replayability and length make this a truly great example of how something casual, and easy to master, can find a place in the market.
Levelling up and learning new abilities adds your approach throughout the game, while different suits earned by completing levels offer further bonuses and eases the difficulty of specific areas on subsequent playthroughs. Mark of the Ninja is an unmissable experience that’s well worth the price of admission.