Klei Entertainment, maker of the Shank games on XBLA, brings its recognizable art style and fantastic controls to the stealth genre in the new 2D platformer Mark of the Ninja for Xbox Live Arcade. Mark of the Ninja combines interesting 2D action platforming with pure stealth - as in you can sneak through the whole game and not kill anyone - to create a fresh new take on familiar gameplay styles that works incredibly well. Mark of the Ninja is excellent.
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
- Genre: 2D Platformer
- Pros: Fantastic presentation; amazing stealth gameplay; lots of content; forgiving checkpoint system
- Cons: Forgettable story; occasionally finicky controls
Mark of the Ninja is, obviously, a story about ninjas. It isn't a particularly interesting story about ninjas, however, and ends up pretty cliched and predictable. Similar to Ninja Gaiden it takes place in the current day, so that means you'll be able to get your ninja on in modern technological settings, which we're big fans of. The story is long and full of tons of hidden optional collectibles and challenge rooms, so there is a ton of content here for 1200 MSP ($15).
Mark of the Ninja is a 2D side-scrolling platformer that focuses heavily on stealth to progress through each level. There are lots and lots of options on how to get through each area, though, which makes things very interesting. You can crawl through vents to avoid enemies entirely. You can hide in plants or dark doorways or other hiding places as guards walk by. You can use a grappling hook to swing to high perches to simply go over the top of the enemies. You can easily get through the game without killing anyone. Or you can sneak up on guards and brutally assassinate them all. But be careful trying to fight too much, however, because it only takes a shot or two for your ninja to go down for good. Thankfully, the game has a very forgiving checkpoint system where you restart in the same room you died in, so you can try a lot of different ways of doing things without worrying about having to replay a big chunk of the game. The best thing I can probably say about the game is that it makes stealth and sneaking easier and more accessible than any other game I have ever played, yet still offers plenty of challenge. It is a stealth game for everyone.
As you progress through the game you earn new abilities and equipment - throwing knives to knock out lights, firecrackers to distract enemies, and more - and other new gameplay features pop up at a pretty steady pace. The enemies also get smarter and require different techniques to get past, so the experience is constantly evolving.
Our only complaint with the game is with occasionally finicky controls. Normally the controls are really intuitive and smooth and work really well, but occasionally things just don't work quite the way you expect. Pretty much everything is situation-based - certain actions only pop up in specific locations or proximities to enemies / objects - and it is really picky about how close or far away you are from things. Also, the same button you use to drag an enemy body is the same you use to hide in the shadows, some if you kill an enemy too close to a plant or vase or doorway you won't be able to move their body since the game thinks you're trying to hide instead. You do get used to it, but it is something you'll definitely struggle with a bit at first.
Graphics & Sound
The presentation is fantastic in Mark of the Ninja. The game uses Klei's "Samurai Jack"
-looking art style for the characters and they look great. The environments are generally dark, since you're sneaking in the shadows, but lighting and special effects are used extremely well to really make things look good. Interactive objects are always really subtly but obviously marked so you can quickly scan a new room and see exactly what you can and can't do. The audio features nice sound effects and only so-so voice acting, but no real complaints there.
All in all, Mark of the Ninja is a surprisingly great 2D platformer that really snuck up on us, no pun intended. It went from we weren't even aware of it before we got a review code, to now it stands as one of the best XBLA games of 2012. We have to admit, we aren't actually huge stealth fans (we like Metal Gear Solid
and Splinter Cell
games but usually end up going full on Rambo at some point ...) but Mark of the Ninja does stealth in such an accessible, yet still satisfying, way that we got hooked almost immediately. Sure, there are some major differences between 2D and 3D stealth games, but Mark of the Ninja makes all of the trial and error a lot easier to swallow so actually trying to be stealthy is worth the risk, which is what we typically aren't fans of in most stealth games. Whether you're like us and only dabble in stealth or are a full on stealth game fan, Mark of the Ninja is a fun and rewarding title that can appeal to anyone. For 1200MSP you're getting a lot of content, too, which makes it easy to recommend.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy