Mark of the Ninja is a 2D cel-shaded platformer where the goal is to sneak past enemies by any means necessary. Tools at your disposal range from ninja classics such as bamboo darts and grappling hooks, to some more unique items such as a pressure-sensitive spike trap – however, the most powerful tool is player wit.
The story follows an unnamed ninja that receives magical powers after being tattooed with ink from a special desert flower. It’s quickly revealed that his newfound gift is actually a curse and will drive him insane over time. To protect his clan, he promises to commit seppuku (suicide) once the madness takes over. Not all is as it seems in the land of Mark of the Ninja and our unnamed hero sets out on a journey to restore tranquility and honor before it’s too late.
Mark of the Ninja (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Released: September 7, 2012
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points
Throughout the course of the game you are sent on various missions that have you sneaking and assassinating your way through modern cities, deserts and the sewers that dwell beneath them. From the character models and environment to the cutscenes, the art style in Mark of the Ninja is highly reminiscent of Klei Entertainment’s Shank series, but the high emphasis on Asian architecture and influence gives it much more personality.
Unlike in other platformers, Mark of the Ninja employs a line of sight mechanic. You can’t see beyond walls or through the celling of the vent shaft you’re crawling through. This makes taking the time to plan your next move a time consuming and stressful endeavor. You can however peer through vent doors, keyholes and other hiding spots to slightly increase your line of sight. While you could attempt to run past enemies and hope for the best, the true gameplay lies in waiting, striking and waiting some more. After all, you are a ninja.
When you approach an enemy undetected and go in for the kill, a brief quick time event is triggered in the form of directional and action buttons. Time slows down as you aim your blade toward your enemy, giving you plenty of time to correctly respond to the QTE. If for some reason you do mess up, you still kill the enemy but their death is much louder of a struggle and has the chance to alert nearby guards; but even an unfortunate event like that has its uses.
The majority of actions preformed in the game make noise, and in most cases, the noise can be used to your advantage. A dying enemy that alerted a guard gives you a window to go into hiding and take out the guard while he’s investigating the corpse. Breaking a light can draw your enemy’s attention away from you and allow you to slip past or slit his throat from behind.
While the game looks beautiful, the dark nature of can make things a little too dark at times. I had to adjust the brightness settings a lot before I could finally see the game well enough to play it. Once I had it set to the ideal settings, I still found myself losing track of my ninja on the screen while crawling in lightless crawlspaces, despite the white outline that is placed around the playable character when he’s creeping through the shadows.
The replay value of Mark of the Ninja is quite high thanks to New Game Plus mode, which allows you to replay the game while keeping your previously unlocked gear and upgrades. To increase the difficulty, New Game Plus removes all sound rings, decreased the visibility behind you and adds much more unforgiving enemies.
When you think about platformers, you probably think about hopping from ledge to ledge while stomping enemies and collecting some form of currency; the last thing you think about is stealth. That’s why Mark of the Ninja’s unique mechanics allows it to not only stand out, but also stand proud in the heavily saturated genre of platformers available on Xbox Live Arcade.
There are a lot of ninja games on the market, but Mark of the Ninja is certainly the truest ninja title of them all.