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Mark of the Ninja review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Excellent stealth action
  • Expansive, varied levels
  • Plenty of replay value
  • The controls can be fussy
  • Playing for score can be tedious
  • You can’t play as the lady ninja

There’s no shortage of games starring ninjas, but more often than not they feature NINOs--ninjas in name only. Where’s the stalking, the secret kills, the disappearing in a cloud of smoke? Mark of the Ninja, a new XBLA exclusive from Klei (the folks best known for Shank), is one of those rare, true ninja games that totally gets it. Despite opting for a relatively simple 2D presentation--actually, because of it--Mark of the Ninja boasts serious stealth gameplay chops.

 

Mark of the Ninja’s tactical depth comes from its simulation of sight and sound. A dynamic fog-of-war blurs out anything not in your immediate line of sight, and every audible action sends out dynamic circles that represent their loudness. Being a ninja, walking is silent; running, however, throws out massive shockwaves with every footfall. Your foes are heavily reliant on their senses, so sneaking revolves around manipulating their perceptions to lure them to their doom (or at least away from your intended path). The interplay of your actions and the AI’s reactions creates dynamic, cascading cause-and-effect scenarios that, deftly played, afford constant opportunities to feel like a ninja maverick.

It’s refreshing how fast it all moves, too. Some stealth games end up slow and plodding, but Mark of the Ninja’s side-scrolling presentation lets you zip around with all the quickness of a pure action game. Sometimes your opening to act undetected will be mere fractions of a second, but if your reflexes and execution are up to the task then the game will give you a fair shot at getting away with whatever crazy sneaking maneuver you’ve concocted. The difficulty is always fair, but the ceiling for mastery is sky-high.

The level design is superb throughout, with huge maps composed of intricately interconnected rooms that offer up no end of interesting tactical situations. Even in the hardest areas, a dynamic checkpoint system keeps frustration to a minimum, letting you test out unusual approaches with minimal risk. Perfectionists can abuse the “restart checkpoint” option until you get a sequence just how you want.

 

Mark of the Ninja’s levels naturally lend themselves to multiple play styles. Completionists will have fun chasing all the (surprisingly interesting) bonus objectives and engaging in much stealthy genocide against the doomed foes. This approach results in lots of points, meaning good weapon and gear unlocks. However, a less-exhaustive, no-kills scenario is also viable. Beat the game and a “new game plus” adds even more interesting foibles.

Flaws? Hiding bodies is a bit of a drag, but the act is worth so many points that it adds unavoidable tedium to attempted high-score runs. More seriously, the controls are heavily reliant on context-sensitive environmental cues, so certain dense bits of map design can make your ninja act differently than you intend. Not a constant problem, but it did lead to some key failures. Also, quick-time-event stealth-kill controls came off as uninspired. Pausing two seconds every kill to comprehend and perform the correct sequence adds little fun. (Of note, there is an unlockable that dispatches with the QTEs, making kills automatic.)

A lot of modern games sacrifice depth and playability in pursuit of other goals, but Mark of the Ninja enjoys an abundance of both. Fast yet measured, breezy yet deep, and above all highly replayable, it's a game that stands as a refreshing example of stealth action done right.

More Info

Release date: Sep 07 2012 - Xbox 360
Oct 16 2012 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Arcade
Published by: Microsoft
Developed by: Klei Entertainment
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

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13 comments

  • gilgamesh310 - September 7, 2012 10:37 a.m.

    Finally. It's taken 14 years but Tenchu has finally been surpassed. We now have another proper ninja game and hopefully franchise and at least one great stealth game if this generation.
  • BladedFalcon - September 7, 2012 1:08 p.m.

    You should check out "Ninja five-o" for the GBA if you're ever able, it was published by Konami I think, and it was a fantastic retro-style game in which you were a ninja that dispatched enemies stealthily, rescued hostages, and had a sweet, sweet grappling hook that allowed him to maneuver in a way not unlike spider-man. It wasn't very publicized, which is a shame, because the game is fantastic.
  • gilgamesh310 - September 7, 2012 3:34 p.m.

    I never heard of that. I never owned a GBA either. I'm not a fan of handhelds.
  • BladedFalcon - September 7, 2012 5:42 p.m.

    Ah, fair enough. And i don't blame you fro never hearing of it, I honestly found about it by chance, but boy did I luck out. Still, you could check some youtube videos of it, if you like it, maybe you could emulate it or something *shrugs*
  • gilgamesh310 - September 7, 2012 6:31 p.m.

    I watched some you tube videos of it. It does indeed look very good. It doesn't seem to involve stealth much though. It's more reminiscent of Shinobi. Still seen like a very good game though. I've played about 3 hours of Mark of the Ninja so far. It's excellent. It seems to borrow from Splinter Cell, Tenchu, Thief and Metal Gear Solid and it combines the elements really well. It's definitely the best stealth game of this generation. Why is no one else commenting here!?
  • BladedFalcon - September 7, 2012 9:08 p.m.

    Because people have terrible taste? :P And yeah... I guess it's not so much a stealth game as it is an action game with elements of platforming and a BIT of stealth. Since you do have some hostages which you have to save, and you can't just run up to the baddie holding the hostage and kill him, but yeah, I realize that calling that actual stealth is a bit of a stretch. And maaaan! it really sounds very sweet! but I don't have a 360 anymore! >.< And this being published by MS makes it very unlikely it can get eventually ported to the PSN... *sighs*
  • gilgamesh310 - September 8, 2012 5:16 a.m.

    They must have. Stealth must be an extremely niche genre lately. It didn't really help that the game got so little publicity either. It will almost definitely come to steam at some point, so you should be able to play it on PC.
  • BladedFalcon - September 8, 2012 10:50 a.m.

    Too bad I'm not a PC player at all. I simply don't like using the keyboard, and not all games support controllers. But we'll see.
  • gilgamesh310 - September 8, 2012 2:09 p.m.

    That game would support a controller and probably be better with one. There's no reason to not like using a keyboard. Some games are better with it. I take it you never played the Thief series. You're really missing out.
  • BladedFalcon - September 8, 2012 4:27 p.m.

    Maybe, though really, it's not like I don't have enough share of games to keep me busy. The truth is, I'm really not interested in branching out to PC gaming any time soon. Perhaps I will if/when the next console generation rolls out and games start become worse and more bloated and it's evident that there is a truly huge gap between one market and the other. Till then, I'll just keep to playing the backlog of games I already own and want to play for consoles, as well as those that I'm interested in for the near future. And really, call it a quirk or whatever, but I've tried,s several times, but I've never gotten used to the way you control stuff with the keyboard. Maybe it's because I'm used to using a gamepad since I was a little kid and in general my reflexes suck, but I just can't control a character well if it's not with by thumbs using a d-pad or an analog stick XD
  • BladedFalcon - September 7, 2012 10:07 a.m.

    Wow, this is a very pleasant surprise! I liked the premise of this game form the start, but I was worried because I found the Shank game to be pretty lackluster. Sounds like this one will deliver however! Now, to see if it will actually rival or perhaps even best Ninja Five-O as my favorite Ninja game...
  • BladedFalcon - September 7, 2012 10:11 a.m.

    ...waitaminute "published by Microsoft Studios" ? SONOFABITCH! GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! Why the fuck is Microsoft getting all the best dowloadable games lately? >.< Doesn't make sense, Shank and Shank 2 came out for the PS3! why not this one!?
  • Godzillarex - September 24, 2012 2:41 p.m.

    I hear ya man. I was equally disappointed as well. At least we can play it on PC now though :)

Showing 1-13 of 13 comments

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