Developed by:Klei Entertainment Published by:Microsoft Genre(s):
  • Stealth
  • Platform:
  • Microsoft
  • PC
  • Cost:$14.99 ESRB Rating:MATURE Players:1 Release date:September 7, 2012 Reviewed on:XBox 360

    Mark of the Ninja

    I used to think that Klei Entertainment was really good at making games. At least that’s the conclusion I came to after having the pleasure of reviewing their titles. Their latest game, Mark of the Ninja, has totally changed my opinion of them. Klei isn’t a good at making video games, they are great at it!

    Mark of the Ninja is a 2D stealth game that follows the story of a modern day ninja clan. This clan of ninja has been able to survive through the ages due to the discovery of a plant that produces magical ink. Placing certain tattoos on a person using this ink grants them heightened abilities. Supposedly whoever dons the tattoos slowly grows insane, so the ink is only used during times of crisis. In these times the bearer of the tattoos will use the power of the ink to lay waste to enemies of the clan before taking their own life (so they don’t succumb to the madness). When the game starts, we see that the clan’s village has been attacked by a group of mercenaries with automatic weapons. Of course, this means we get to be the chosen one sent to redeem our clan’s honor.

    While the story is interesting, the reason you are doing the things you are doing isn’t as interesting as…the things you are doing. Klei’s title is one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played. This developer has found a way to make sure that game mechanics don’t get in your way of being an awesome killing machine. Hiding in the shadows right before delivering a fatal blow to an unsuspecting guard is as easy as making Mario jump on a koopa; everything in the game works to make sure that you can do what you want, exactly when you want to do it. This is because Klei’s title combines its visuals and gameplay in such a way that there really is no room for error.

    Take color for instance. If a character is in darkness, then their body is shown via a silhouette. If they’re in a lit area, then you’ll be able to see them in full color. There is no in between; it’s either one or the other. In other games, it’s possible to accidently alert an enemy because of the variably of indicated cover.. For example, you come upon an enemy that is under a spotlight and you remain in the shadows to contemplate your next move, problem is, the tip of your shoe is not covered in the shadow. While you may not be 100% camouflaged, the enemy still shouldn’t notice your presence, due to lack of complete visibility. However, because the game mechanics do not allow for degrees of visibility, the AI usually automatically err towards the side of oversensitivity. In other words, you’ll be spotted. That’s not the case with Mark of the Ninja. The game’s AI can’t confuse what they can or can’t see.

    Adding to this is the sound factor. Being stealthy means being quite; if your enemies hear you it doesn’t matter if you’re well hidden or not. Again, there are visual cues to help you out. All sounds/noises in the game are represented with rings of light. The sound’s ring will flow outward from its source and the  size of the light rings corresponds to the volume of the sound; larger, further reaching rings represent louder sounds. If the AI is in the ring’s radius then they’ll hear the sound that was made. Like I said, there isn’t any room for error; no matter how loud the noise is. If the enemy isn’t in the ring, then they can’t hear you.

    Then there are the controls. All of your actions are tied to a few buttons, which are contextual in their use. For instance, pressing A by itself will make you jump. Pressing it when close to a vent will make you crawl inside. The game will visually notify you of what you can and cannot do based on your position. So, after a few minutes of playing, you’ll be able to quickly orchestrate elaborate assassinations without stumbling over a list of commands. You are always in control.

    All of these things come together to make you feel like competent ninjas. I never had to struggle with complicated controls in order to get my ninja to do complicated maneuvers. There were no camera issues that would cause me to be spotted by enemies either. Speaking of enemies, they were smart but fair. At no point did I feel like the game’s AI suddenly became omniscient after catching a glimpse of me. Nor did they ever break any of the game’s rules; if the game mechanics rendered me hidden, then my enemies really couldn’t see me. If you are a fan of the stealth genre, then you know what I’m talking about. Not to say that every stealth game has these types of problems, but many of them do. Well laid out plans can be ruined because of bad game mechanics. Again, I’m happy to state that this was not the case with Mark of the Ninja!

    The good news is that even though you’re able to play as a ninja master doesn’t mean the game is easy. Remember the AI is smart. They’ll be able to spot dead bodies and alert their comrades, use guard dogs to sniff you out, and ardently attempt to survive their ninja encounter. Some enemies can’t even be stealthily killed without being stunned first; it’s hard to sneak up on ninjas outfitted with motion sensors. If you are spotted, in some cases you’ll be able to fight your way out. Though, for the most part, it’s better to stay out of an armed guard’s crosshairs. Thankfully there are a lot of cool gadgets and skills to unlock, giving you the edge over your opponents. You will be able to use everything from smoke bombs and kunai (small throwing knives) to spiked spring traps and flesh eating beetles. If the guards are standing under a chandelier, cutting its chain with a well thrown kunai will bring it down on top of them. No time to hide a body? Just throw the beetles on it and within seconds it will be chewed to dust. As you progress through the game you’ll get even more ninja gear; there’s even a “cardboard” item that’s reminiscent of the Metal Gear series. This is true of the skills you’ll gain as well. They range from additional stealth kill options to heightened senses, like the ability to sense environmental traps, making it easier to traverse.

    Nowadays, this wouldn’t be a stealth game if there wasn’t some way of scoring how well you’ve beaten a level. Mark of the Ninja scores you on whether or not you alerted the guards during a level, how many stealth kills you did, if you hid bodies or not, and more. Each level will also have special, optional objectives that will grant a lot of points if completed. You can even get a bonus for not killing anyone in the level. Layered on top of that are scrolls, artifacts, and challenge rooms (puzzle rooms) that are scattered throughout each level. Finding them will increase your score; scrolls and artifacts will give you a point bonus right away, while the challenge rooms need to be completed first. Not only is this important from an online leaderboard stand point, but also because better scores mean more points to spend on enhanced gear, skills, and costumes.

    The bottom line: Mark of the Ninja is awesome. Klei has made it possible to be a ninja in all aspects of the word. Well animated graphics not only help the game’s look, but also help gamers play better. There are a decent number of items, skills, and costumes to unlock and there is even a game plus mode to extend replay value. As it stands, Klei has made one of the best stealth titles this generation. It could easily stand next to the Hitman, Splinter Cell, and Assassins Creeds out there; not in scope but definitely in gameplay!



    Great gameplay all around; I actually felt like a ninja!



    I’m a big fan of Klei’s stylish, 2D animation. What’s cool is that the visuals help gamers to be more in control in a stealth game than ever before!



    The music and voice acting is good.

    What's New:


    I don’t remember a stealth game that used visual cues as well as this title does. Not even the floating head symbols from Metal Gear Solid compare to this.

    Replay Value:


    While I doubt you’ll play forever, there is a lot to do and unlock here.

    Final Score:


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