I decided to make this review because the ninja theme is something that is somewhat cyclical, and this game really stands out from it. Decades go by and stories of silent killers are told again and again, with more or less elegance, with better or worse special effects. But beware because I will speak to you about one of the best games coming out for Xbox Live this year. Well, maybe claiming it to be the best is a little too risky. Let’s just reference it as one of the best games in the genre of 2D stealth. Yeah, that definitely is a fair and agreed trial.
So let’s start then.
Mark of the Ninja (MOTN) seems to seek inspiration from many eighties films, perhaps one of the times in which most films of this genre were produced. Trust me, just search on Youtube for movies about ninjas and you will see that I’m not exaggerating.
Although at that time I wasn’t really an avid Ninja movie viewer, probably because I wasn’t even born, I can’t say that from the later movies I’ve seen I didn’t become indifferent to their ability to deceive and execute. Specially from this movie in 2009 called “Ninja Assassin” that doesn’t seem to have gone unnoticed in the fingers of the talented artists of Klei Entertainment. Perhaps the fact that the recently premiered (2009) is easy to relate with Mark of the Ninja is the fact that they have common elements like a modern “look”, moody night scenes and blood gushing and raining like there is no tomorrow. There are also similarities in the story, like some characters with the same mix of cultures ( Western and Japanese) and an exiting narrative given by a mystery that is extended to the end and requires the player more than one thought to really understand and realize the moral dimension of the story.
While the struggle between good and evil is always the backdrop of these wanderings, we must be mindful of who really is our real enemy. Is it the others? Or is it ourselves?
Regarding gameplay, MOTN allows us to fully experience the skills of a ninja. Our character is so soft that once you have mechanized the controls and the movements you can do, you will feel compelled to delicately perform missions with perfection. What I mean by that is, with silence, excellence and honor.
The game actually reminds you whether or not you fulfill these ninja requirements. A clean kill and you are a silent killer, a careless and noisy fail and you will be compared to a mere clumsy peasant.
Since the beginning of the adventure that you are accompanied in key moments by a mysterious ninja who guides you on the path to take. She advises you which is the wisest route to avoid guards and explains how can you use your skills appropriately. Well, avoiding guards is actually the most appropriate and healthy posture if you want to stay alive. Forget Shank and his unbridled rebellion… Fighting face to face is possible but the risks are far greater than stealth, since your opponents and relentless and little tolerant to acts of your unconsciousness.
If you want to do well and run missions with dignity, it is essential to develop and implement a precise methodology. As I said before with experience the movements become natural for the player and quick and honored executions are well rewarded, received and appreciated.
But do not think you will have to move on tiptoe and take 15 minutes just to pass a guard. If there is someone that can laugh at the “haste trips up it’s own heels” saying it’s definitely the protagonist of MOTN.
Anyone who has watched films of its kind, found that ninjas are used for all sorts of mechanisms to divert attention from their victims. In the game you can and should use shurikens to divert attention from dogs and guards, which is a simple but effective and fun technique. Another well-implemented detail is that it is essential hide your victims, so that you don’t run into the risk of these being found by other military comrades. Containers, hatches or by simply droping your victims to a lower level are ways to clean up your footprints and avoiding the worst luck. You must do this because each time they find a dead body, the guards will sound the alarm and consequently diminish your chances of continuing the mission.
This dimension of gameplay is very well implemented, it forces the player to act quickly and be cautious at the same time. Paradoxical, I know, but possible. You can also throw the corpses of your victims to an area where enemies are. An act of this nature will provoke them fear and anxiety, making them an easier prey. Despite being a grim situation, is both comical and entertaining. For me at least…
The levels on MOTN provide enough variation for you not to feel any linearity in the progression of the adventure. Lasers, machine guns and poisonous gases are other deadly obstacles that you will find on your path and that will require ingenuity and imagination to overcome. There are also levels with mechanical puzzles that will provide good and difficult challenges. We walk on roofs, tunnels and secret passages that can be alternative ways to the one you were supposed to take. By exploring areas like these you will find artifacts that give you points you can use to acquire abilities, weapons and special powers.
Special powers and weapons such as smoke bombs, confuse and neutralize cameras and laser beams, ancient tools of war, such as beetles that once released upwards of soldiers will feast on their bones, flesh and hot blood. A small example of your abilities and tricks would be: Pulling an enemy beneath a trap door and hanging it on a pole after the execution.
The graphics in MOTN seek inspiration from modern cartoons. Their trait is strong, the colors are garish and everything is done with taste and subtlety. It’s like if you are playing Shank but with totally different game mechanics. The levels are varied despite the darkness, which is of course an element of the gameplay. There is a varied number of enemies, each with their own specific characteristics and degree of dangerousness.
The soundtrack is reminiscent of Michal Bay’s action movies and draws enough from the hearing mechanics popularized by the Metal Gear Solid Saga. For example if you are detected by a guard of alarm the sound will rise sharply and dynamically.
Once I finished the game I found myself starting all over again. Instead of resting and letting the adventure for another day, the desire to apply the experience I gained made me take the challenge up to another level. I whispered to myself, “This time they won’t even know I’m there”. Well, in short, the replay value is great because you feel that you must be silent and concise in every attack you made. This is the way to act in a ninja game that gives you all the tools to realize this ideal!
Mark of the Ninja is probably the greatest 2D game to launch till today. That spirit of a feudal mercenary is present more than ever, the dynamic of concealment or the quiet elegance of attacks that the character can perform is just astonishing. The relevant story keeps you focused on the adventure and on the next target to beat. Do not expect facilities because the tiredness and stupidity of some guards hides true ruthless killers who do not spare you at all. But well, for connoisseurs of the genre, the wise ninja master would only say: “Its better to have tried and failed and to not have tried at all.”