Mark of the Ninja Review
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On 10/08/2012 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola
I can totally see the sound, man.
Sneaking silently, planning every move, and executing with absolute precision; it's not something you're going to be doing in most games in this day and age. Bombastic action, huge set pieces, and non-stop action is the flavor of the week; however, Mark of the Ninja not only encourages, but requires the exact opposite for success. Though the stealth genre has traditionally been one that most gamers do not appreciate, Mark of the Ninja boils it down to its essence and makes it accessible for everyone.
Klei Entertainment has managed this feat by moving the genre into 2D space and providing visual cues for sight and sound which grants a holistic view of the environment. With full knowledge of the environment and the ability to silently observe enemy behaviors, it becomes very easy to make your own choices as to how you're going to accomplish both the mandated and optional quests in the game.
Traditionally, the stealth genre has been tough because it's never clear what may or may not trip the enemy AI. With this impediment completely removed, it's now accessible to all. This may worry stalwarts, but rest assured Hitman, Splinter Cell, and Thief fans, Mark of the Ninja doesn't water down the stealth experience you're used to. The skills you've built playing those traditional titles will serve you well, allowing you to accomplish the optional objectives in each level, which demand a greater level of skill.
What's most empowering about Mark of the Ninja is the unprecedented level of choice you're given. While at first the levels tend to be very directed, eventually you'll be able to skip entire segments and exist only in the shadows, leaving not a trace of your handiwork. For those more clumsy or unwilling to execute this level of precision, Mark of the Ninja pays no mind. With a reasonably-sized health bar, you can be detected and even take some damage while continuing to progress through the level.
Depending on your approach and the objectives you are able to complete, you'll be awarded points. In each of the game's 13 levels, you'll have the ability to collect up to three scrolls, complete up to three optional objectives, and ultimately earn a score of up to three seals. The more scrolls, objectives, and seals earned the more moves and items that can be purchased at the in-game store. The augmentation of your abilities only lends for a more varied and engaging experience that allows you to tackle or avoid enemies in new ways.
While most of the fun in Mark of the Ninja is derived from the choice of your approach, the controls allow for some extremely dexterous and impressive maneuvers. Your every movement is extremely tight and you must put consideration into your traversal at all times. It's extremely simple to grapple to perches, grip the wall, and even utilize a variety of weapons. By tapping the left trigger you can pause time, allowing you to mark a variety of targets in order to simultaneously throw darts, smoke bombs, and other projectiles. Darts tend to be your most commonly used projectile and they can break lights, attract the attention of guards, and to power down a variety of impediments and detectors.
Some of the most thrilling moments of the game require you to inch yourself into a particular location, duck into cover, and come out at exactly the right moment to disable a piercing laser that will inflict instant death. Of course, the game does offer checkpoints, so a miscalculation doesn't spell certain disaster. You may have to complete portions of the level again, but in some instances this allows you to reconsider your approach to earn more points or consider a different pathway to accomplish a downstream objective more easily.
There's not much that can be leveled against Mark of the Ninja. While the story falls flat and the cutscenes feel somewhat out of place, the experience is incredibly fun and varied with each passing level. If anything, Mark of the Ninja is extremely dense. With levels lasting up to 20 or 30 minutes (if you take your time), it can be tough to go through more than a level or two at a time.
If you're in the mood for some stealth or just a break from the high energy, rollercoaster ride provided by most modern games, Mark of the Ninja is a must-play title. It redefines the stealth genre and opens it up to the world, instead of the select few with the patience to master the more obtuse construction of the genre's 3D counterparts.