Mark of the Ninja Review
Silent, but deadly.
When you start playing Mark of the Ninja it won’t take you long to realize that this is exactly how you pictured the life of a Ninja, when you were a kid. A group of reclusive martial artists, shunning the outside world, living by their own code and kicking all kinds of ass. That isn’t to say that Mark of the Ninja is a game for kids, it most certainly isn’t, instead it takes the comic book style Ninja story and throws in plenty of mature content. In a world where stealth is king, it’s time to make your mark.
Mark of the Ninja is a 2D action game that isn’t quite a platformer, and isn’t quite a metroid-vania game but it lies somewhere in the area halfway between both. You’re the chosen warrior of your clan and, as such, must receive the Mark which is a series of tattoos that give you special powers. As you move through each level you’ll have multiple different paths to choose from and will often have several strategies available.
Guards have a limited line of sight in the dark, but if you pass through an area that is lit you can be spotted by anyone who is looking in your direction. Walking straight into a fight, while doable, is never the option you want to choose when playing this game. Since you’ll be facing armed, and armored, guards during the majority of the game you’ll want to sneak around unless you really get into trouble. Even then, good luck taking out more than one enemy in open combat.
Instead, you’ll have to use the environment, and your available tools, to get around behind enemies to bring them down. Or not. Each level in Mark of the Ninja is scored based on a number of categories and completing a level without killing anyone will usually net you far more points than killing them all. Mark of the Ninja does a great job of backing you into a corner where you may think the only way out is to kill, but they almost treat that as the easy way out. Each room, or group of rooms, is like a puzzle. If you solve the puzzle, you can likely get through without alerting anyone.
Figuring out what to do is never just a matter of waiting until some guys turn their back to kill them. It usually goes more like; OK, if I throw a dart at that light and knock it out the guard will come over, I’ll hide behind this flower pot and dart out just as he passes me, that will give me enough time to avoid the moving laser alarm trigger so I can grappling hook myself up to the grate in the ceiling and head out through the air ducts. I think.
It’s situations like that one that make Mark of the Ninja a lot of fun to play. It looks a lot like a cartoon at first, but this cartoon has some really bad intentions, after all it’s about getting tattoos and killing people. The story never drifts into any overly compelling territory, but it does it’s job and the character animations are fun to watch. Once you’ve completed the story you can go back through each level to get a higher score, and thus upgrade your skills even further, so there’s a good amount of game here.
There are no multiplayer modes in Mark of the Ninja.
Mark of the Ninja does a great job of bringing stealth based gameplay into the 2D space. It may seem simple at first, but you’ll soon be dangling from your grappling hook, shooting out lights and distracting guards with the best of them. If you’re looking for a new XBLA game to kill a few hours before the busy season starts, Mark of the Ninja will happily kill those hours for you. With a knife from behind, most likely.