While hiding in the shadows may be a good tactic if you want to perform a stealth kill, it turns out that it's not the ideal way to get people's attention. Despite being published by Microsoft, Mark of the Ninja has slipped by completely unnoticed. With its smooth gameplay, gorgeous artwork and deceptively twisted storyline, there's a lot to love about Klei's newest stealth/action game. Mark of the Ninja is not only a strong contender for game of the year, but a new high water mark for all ninja games.
You play the ninja in question, a super-powered fighting machine that has been marked with a large tattoo. The tattoo gives our hero all kinds of special powers, but will eventually drive the ninja insane. From here you (and a computer-controlled female ninja) set out on an adventure to get revenge. The target is a bearded gentleman with a striking resemblance to The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis advertisements.
For much of the game, the actual story isn't the main draw. The real star here is the gameplay, which seems to be channeling both Castlevania and Arkham City. This is a stealth game through and through, but like Rocksteady's recent Batman titles, this is more about toying with your enemies. After you've mastered the controls and built up your arsenal of attacks, you'll be an unstoppable force that bats his prey around like a cat before going in for the kill.
The game's thirteen stages are specifically designed with stealth in mind. Each map is gigantic, full of wide-open areas, multiple paths and secret passageways. Each and every scenario can be tackled in a number of disparate ways, from leaving everybody alive to killing every guard in sight. The levels are flush with obstacles to hide behind, places to stuff dead bodies and explosive traps to set off.
Our hero has a few ninja tricks that will make avoiding detection a lot easier. One hand holds distraction items, which include noise makers, smoke bombs, distraction flares and the trusty cardboard box. In the other hand you get attack items, such as the Hisomu terror dart and the trusty spike mine. Aside from these limited items, the ninja is also able to throw knives to break lights and get the attention of passing baddies.
The game mechanics have been honed to an inch of their life, creating an experience that is an absolute joy to play. Even though we've already seen ninjas tackled countless times on dozens of game systems, Klei manages to keep the formula fresh. Our tattooed hero is quick to respond and able to stick to walls without any fuss. The game's superior mechanics made sure I never felt out of control and allowed for a lot of experimentation.
There came a point mid-way through where it all clicked. I was one with the ninja; able to pull off every complex plan my mind was able to concoct. I would dangle from the lights high above the action and pick off guards, then jump down and sneak up behind the few that got away. I would use my terror darts to torment the weak, making them fire on their friends before eventually turning the gun on themselves. I was a ghost, unable to be killed and ready for any and all battles.
Thankfully, the game was ready for me. Each stage introduces a new wrinkle, forcing me to rethink how I tackle each situation. Suddenly I going head to head with snarling dogs, oversized brutes and laser rooms. Thankfully the level design also kept up, constantly giving me new ways to avoid detection and swoop in for the kill. Forget the countless Tenchu sequels; this is the first game to truly make me feel like a ninja.
Think there are already too many ninja games on the market? Think again, because Mark of the Ninja is one of this year's best games. With a lengthy campaign, stylish graphics, responsive gameplay and a surprise ending, Klei's newest action game is a must-own. Even if you're normally not into stealth games, Mark of the Ninja is well worth your time!
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!