Mark of the Ninja Review
(Originally posted on splitkick.com. Thank you to the Splitkick team for the edits!)
Perched atop a lamppost, I spot my targets. Directly below me are three gun-toting foes who have no idea what’s coming to them. I could simply grapple to the adjacent rooftop to continue my mission, but my bloodlust is running high. I ask myself, “Do I want to cloud their vision with a smoke bomb, then stab each of them in the back? Or can I come up with something more clever?” Scanning my inventory, I find just the thing to liven up this party. In an instant, a swarm of ravenous insects showers down on one of my enemies. As the insects make quick work of his flesh, his partners freak out, and accidentally shoot each other in the commotion. Recognizing that my work was done, I slip off into the darkness to continue my quest.
Though it’s a stretch to classify Mark of the Ninja as a simulation, this 2D stealth platformer makes me feel more like a real ninja than any other video game I’ve played before. Marrying concepts from the NES Ninja Gaiden games with the Arkham series of Batman titles, it’s also one of the coolest games I’ve played in 2012.
Assuming the role of a stealthy ninja is a joy thanks to the myriad of movement, and attack options you have at your disposal. Your character runs and jumps like Ryu Hayabusa did in the 80s. He can also cling to walls, hang from ceilings, and hide behind objects. Throwing smoke bombs will help you get the drop on some unsuspecting foes or vanish from a tight spot. Most enjoyable from his basic moveset is the grappling hook, which can be used to zip to higher ground, or rapel Spider-Man style. As you progress through the game, you’ll have the opportunity to unlock a myriad of tools and abilities to further augment your already sweet toolset. Though it’s always advantageous to sneak through the shadows, I always felt more badass than vulnerable, which is something I don’t experience often with games in this genre.
Adding to the ninja experience are the game’s intricately designed levels. There are seemingly dozens of different ways to approach every encounter, depending on which route you want to take, and your current loadout. Stealth savants will enjoy meticulously planning out the perfect run, but the game is lenient enough to let you successfully react on-the-fly.
Regardless of your approach, its intelligent user interface does a tremendous job of giving you the information you need to make informed decisions. There are a number of unobtrusive visual indicators to let you know what your enemies see, and hear. Most helpful are the indicators that will tell you the impact of your actions before you do them. Before you throw a kunai at a light source, the game will tell you how loud the impact will be. In some cases, you want this action to go unnoticed. Other times, you’ll want enemies to hear that noise in order to draw their attention. Whatever you choose, you have all of the sensory information handy to make that call. Likewise, that same information can be used to understand why a particular situation went south when you screw up.
Once I grasped the language of its gameplay mechanics, I couldn’t put it down. Even though I’m generally not into the genre, I had a blast experimenting with my options in hopes of finding the most ninja-like way of dealing with every situation. As I progressed through this roughly 8-hour adventure, I was pleased to see the game progressively spice things up with new wrinkles, such as new enemy types, and unique environmental objects. Once I beat the game, I was ready to jump right into new game plus mode to really put my ninja training to the test.
Mark of the Ninja’s triumphs do way more than just fill a vacancy left by the Tenchu franchise. Its masterful stealth gameplay makes it one of the best downloadable games of 2012. Don’t let this one sneak by.