Review: Mark of the Ninja


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Mark of the Ninja Review

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The Fantastic Story of How Mark Finally Found a Job Where He Got to Wear Pajamas All Day

Perspective can mean everything.  Look at Ikaruga, Contra, and Quake and the importance of perspective becomes apparent.  Whether a shooter is played top-down, from the side, or in first person has drastic effects on how the game is designed, plays and feels.  Many genres are created by taking a familiar type of game and simply changing the perspective, resulting in something fresh and interesting.  Mario became something completely new when it was reinvented on the Nintendo 64 and Grand Theft Auto didn’t get its massive fan base until the third game shifted the series into third person.  Mark of the Ninja is another experiment of this ilk.  Mark of the Ninja takes the time honored stealth genre and flattens it into 2d creating one of the most interesting and satisfying stealth games in recent memory.

Mark of the Ninja uses the 2d format to replace the fail, retry, guess and check gameplay of traditional stealth games with a calculated style of play.  It achieves this by creating a very legible game where the consequences for any action are clear before you do it.  Circles indicate how far sound will travel and the yellow cones from flashlights make it obvious how far guards can see.  Characters have an obvious silhouetted appearance when they are hidden in shadows and the game even shows how close you can get to a guard dog before he can smell you.  On top of all this game the game allows you to pause time and queue up to three actions, allowing you to lock on to targets and see who will be affected by the items where they are currently aimed.  All of this allows the player to read and navigate the levels with a competence that I haven’t seen in other stealth games.

The game has a rudimentary upgrade system that mainly serves to give players a treat when they complete levels or secondary objectives.  It’s enough to give the player a sense of character progression but oddly some basic abilities are locked at first that are taken for granted in other stealth games.  While some unlockable abilities seem elementary, the gadgets you can unlock are pretty awesome and include flesh-eating insects for hiding bodies and a solid snake style card board box.

The storyline of the game is functional more than anything.  It imbues each mission with a sense of importance and keeps the action moving along, which is good enough for government work but the game doesn’t really do much in the way of characterization and the motivation doesn’t really go beyond “we gotta get them before they get us!”  Still, the story includes enough ambiguity to be interesting.  The final stage feels more like a ceremony than a level and allows for a few a questions to linger in the player’s mind after he is done playing.

Mark of the Ninja has plenty to do after the story concludes though.  A new game + mode unlocks after you complete the game where what the player can see is limited to his line of sight and and the player is much more vulnerable.  The player can also unlock different styles that drastically change how the game is played.  These styles offer a lot of variety to the game, granting the player abilities and load outs designed around hunting down enemies, sneaking past them, terrorizing them, or just straight up brawling with them and encourage the player to replay the game in different ways.  The game also has a variety of secondary objectives and collectibles to gather to give you a few extra things to do.

Mark of the Ninja is a truly unique experience.  The stealth genre fits perfectly into a 2d format and is greatly enhanced by the developer’s efforts to make sure the player knows exactly how his actions will affect the world.  If you have the slightest interest in stealth games, you need to give this a try.

Mark of the Ninja is only available on Xbox Live Arcade but will soon be released on the PC via Steam.

Is this game worth $15?:  Absolutely    Rating: B+

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