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Mark of the Ninja preview – Earning every last kill

Playing like a mix of Tenchu, Bionic Commando, and the classic Ninja Gaiden games on NES, Mark of the Ninja looks like it’ll be a surefire hit with fans of feudal assassins. Though it comes from Klei Entertainment, the makers of the two Shank games, the style of action couldn’t be more different. Instead of chainsawing through thugs like a blowtorch through butter, you’re better off avoiding fights entirely, as a true ninja would.

That’s not to say that MotN lacks the over-the-top cartoony violence that Shank delivered – but in this game, we got our kicks via brutal stealth kills, each more flashy than the last. But trying to take on burly guards head-on is a mistake: they’ll kill the as-of-yet-unnamed ninja in two or three hits. Instead, you’ll want to use the surroundings to your advantage, as in any worthwhile stealth game, to divide and conquer a stage by picking off targets one at a time. You can even pick up dead bodies and lug them to a hiding spot in the dark shadows, Deus Ex style.

The visuals look quite similar to Shank, only much, much cooler. Just like “fog of war” in RTS games, any area of the screen that isn’t in your line of sight will be silhouetted against the gorgeous backdrops. That means that failing to look before you leap could get you surrounded by guards in seconds – and nobody wants that. Shank (y'know, the dude you play as in Shank?) always looked a little bit goofy to us, but MotN’s protagonist has a ninjitsu swagger to him that makes us wish he had his own comic. (It would mainly focus on killing fools in increasingly-awesome ways.)

You’ve got more than a sword and your wits to sneakily slay enemies. The ninja is covered in tattoos, each of which grant him a specific special ability – hookshots, shuriken, wall-climbing, and what have you. You’ll unlock more sick tats as you progress through the game, giving MotN a sort of Metroidvania vibe without the need to uncover every inch of the map. Stealth puzzles include distracting enemies with a shuriken-to-gong clang, luring them underneath a stone lamp before dropping it on their heads, and using grates in the floors and walls (which you can effortlessly cling to) to get yourself in position for a viscera-impaling one hit kill (activated by an inoffensive quick time event of pressing the correct direction and button).

The way each level is laid out is quite satisfying – you’ll never get bright neon arrows screaming at you to go somewhere. Instead, an unassuming tree branch might be just the platform you need to hookshot to in order to reach a perfect vantage point on a rooftop. There are plenty of awesome touches too: for instance, if a guard finds a body that’s been mutilated beyond recognition, he’ll actually become afraid and run around aimlessly, letting you sneak up and snap his neck like it’s your job. Which it pretty much is.

We saw the game on Xbox as a downloadable title, but we’re certain that, as with Shank, it’ll make its way to the PS3 and PC as well. This is definitely a ninja game to keep an eye on – in a time when ninjas are nearing as overuse on the same scale as zombies, bringing them back to their stealth-centric, frail-yet-deadly roots is the right way to go.

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8 comments

  • gilgamesh310 - June 6, 2012 6:09 p.m.

    Yeah butthe other enemeis didn't feature as much. The vampires show up the most frequently after they first make their appearance. The werewolves are frequent too though.
  • BladedFalcon - June 6, 2012 11:19 a.m.

    Without seeing it in motion yet, the fact that it's ninja 2d stealth and the ninja uses a chain to move around, immediately reminded me of the incredibly underrated Ninja Five-O. And any association with taht game is nothing but a good thing. I wasn't really a big fan of Shank, it sure was pretty, but the combat felt tedious and one note. But this switch of gameplay style sounds much more promising. Hopefully it will deliver.
  • gilgamesh310 - June 6, 2012 11:56 a.m.

    Why would you consider the combat one note in Shank? You get different guns and various melee weapons to keep combat interesting. The game is very short too, so it doesn't get time to stagnate.
  • BladedFalcon - June 6, 2012 12:07 p.m.

    Because even though it gives you different guns and weapons, they never give you any incentive to change them them at all, and most enemies can be beaten with the same kind of combo. Also, save for the shotgun, the rest of the guns are pretty useless, specially the SMG. It also doesn't help that they had like- 3 types of enemies. But mostly it was the basic grunt and a brute. It might have been short, but that didn't make the combat any less insipid. In an action game, i honestly consider enemy variety to be far more important than weapon variety. This is why I enjoyed games like DMC4 and Lords of Shadow far more than this game, even though both games mainly had you using one kind of weapon. It was the starkly different selection of enemies and fighting styles that made the combat interesting.
  • gilgamesh310 - June 6, 2012 5:05 p.m.

    There weren't that many enemy types in Lords of Shadow, especially considering the length of the game. The most common type of enemy was then flying vampires. The most common move I used was the helicopter attack. Most other moves went redundant. They just wouldn't work properly at all. Enemies kept breaking the combos. I felt that game would be better if it ended after you killed Carmilla. I dragged on for too long after that. Anyway Mark of the Ninja will be a completely different type of game. It should make up for the lack of any good Tenchu games around at the moment.
  • BladedFalcon - June 6, 2012 5:21 p.m.

    ...The vampires aren't the most common enemy type at all. They don't even appear for the first third part of the game, and while they do make the bulk of the enemy force of the second part, they always threw other enemies to keep things interesting. First you had werewolves, wargs, mayor werewolves, imps, goblins, trolls and spiders. Then you get the vampires, then skeletons and giant animated armored kingihts, Ghouls, wraiths and scarecrows. There was pretty much around two noticeably different kinds of enemy for every chapter of the game. Yes, the game was long, but compared with pretty much any other top tier action game. (Bayonetta, DMC, God Of War) It had as much enemy variety comparatively. And again, if you compared it to shank, even if it was 4 hours long at most, it still had pretty much 2 prevalent enemy types and the occasional special grunt. Also, you already said that about Mark of the Ninja :P And I know, i also expect to be good. Specially because being a stealth game, Klei doesn't have to worry about having that much enemy variety, since that's not strictly needed in a stealth game XD
  • gilgamesh310 - June 6, 2012 11:11 a.m.

    *typo there. I meant fewer proper ninja games, like Tenchu.
  • gilgamesh310 - June 6, 2012 11:09 a.m.

    I'm very interested in this. There are few stealth game around anymore, and even fewer ninja games.

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