Ninjas are cool, and everybody knows it. The idea of stealthily sneaking around in the darkness without making a single sound and reaching your intended target for a quick kill is an attractive one, and despite being a bit shady, people all around the world love these guys. Ninjas are practically seen everywhere nowadays, from books, comics, music, television, movies, and video games, infiltrating pop culture and our society with ease. That’s where Klei Entertainment comes in, with their newest title Mark of the Ninja (MotN). MotN deals with these expert assassins, but does it do the masters of shadow any justice?
In MotN, players take control over an unnamed ninja; a young assassin with sharpened skills in killing silently and becoming one with the shadows. After waking up from slumber due to an unwarranted attack by a rich and powerful individual named Count Karajan and his mercenaries on Sesnei Azai’s homebase, the young assassin and his mysterious female companion Ora are sent to exact revenge and regain honor by eliminating the new threat in his tower. To aid in his quest, the ninja receives a piece of the “Mark,” a tattoo that grants the wielder extraordinary powers. Once receiving the Mark, Ninja embarks on his quest to gain honor. While the story isn’t anything special, the whole sub-plot regarding the Mark and it’s effects is a well-crafted one, driving the player forward to see what happens.
While ninjas have cool acrobatic moves and are masters at hand to hand combat, the main aspect of their strategies is the use of stealth to get past guards on watch duty and to reach their intended target as silently as possible. Fortunately, Klei Entertainment nails this aspect, as this game is all about stealth, and it’s pretty awesome.
Players take the protagonist across a variety of dark and shadow-filled side-scrolling stages in which he must complete a number of objectives, such as sabotaging machinery, overcoming security personnel and deadly laser beams, assassinating certain high-ranking individuals or pick-pocketing them for keycards. To do so, the young ninja can climb up and run on nearly any surface in order to pass undetected, provided he is hidden in shadow. Any light sources in the game can leave the Ninja exposed to guards, and their weapons pack a mean punch, meaning that players can’t bullrush into encounters, or else they’ll tear through players in seconds. Thankfully, the assassin can hide behind objects or side passages like tunnels hidden behind grates with a touch of a button, allowing a guard to pass by, blissfully unaware of the killer hiding besides him.
The controls in MotN are pretty easy to use, and quickly become second nature, as you run up walls, hid underneath grates, and more. The game does a good job of promoting the use of stealth, and can turn anybody into a professional ninja in no time.
Sound also plays a huge role in this game, as guards can hear objects falling or the running steps of Ninja. Players must make sure to walk instead of running and be careful of destroying lights in the presence of guards or else risk being found out. And it can also be used as well to distract said guards, allowing the player to get a hold of the turned back of their foes, or slip past them undetected. The concept works wonderfully here, allowing players to use this to their advantage whenever possible. The nicely designed user-interface also allows players to see enemies in the distance by the sound of their footsteps, even when they are out of visual range, so players can plan ahead instead of dashing blindly into danger.
When it comes to killing, our assassin isn’t short on ways to eliminate his foes, both loudly and stealthily. Upon running across an enemy, he can engage them in hand-to-hand combat, with is quite risky as enemies can slip away and manage to shoot him, or alert others to their plight. The other way is by stealthily approaching an enemy from behind and pressing the stealth kill button, which activates a small quick-time event. If it is failed, the enemy gets the slip, but if inputted correctly, a nice animation plays out showing how quickly and effectively the ninja kills his foes.
Enemy bodies can also be hid away among the shadows or trash bins to not alert other enemies who are prowling in close proximity. A staple of the stealth genre, MotN handles the mechanic well, and it’s easier than ever.
Being a ninja, players have a number of options and tools at their disposal to navigate the multi-leveled stages. Among them is a grappling hook, which allows the protagonist to grapple to high points such as telephone posts, street lights and more. He can also dangle from the hook as well, which allows him to get better looks at objects that are obscured, or reach areas previously inaccessible. The assassin can also use darts that let him destroy lights, electrical boxes, and even ring gongs and other objects from a distance to distract guards. Players will also gain access to another number of ninja tools as they progress throughout the stages, like smoke bombs that obscure guards views and allow passage through lasers, spike traps, which kill a guard upon stepping on them , and more, allowing players to get more creative with how they approach levels as they go along.
Players can also improve Ninja in a number of ways, by gaining points, collecting scrolls, and completing a number of stage specific challenges. By preforming successful stealth kills, remaining undetected, distracting guards and collecting scrolls, players can earn points that are summed to the total stage score. By collecting a certain number of points, players can gain Honor Medals that allow them to purchase new abilities, secondary weapons or even improve existing ones. Players can also get more ability points by collecting up three scrolls, which detail some of the game’s back story, as well as completing specific challenges, like remaining undetected in certain sections, taking down a number of enemies, among many others. It’s a nice way to encourage multiple playthroughs while also rewarding players for playing smartly and stealthily.
Then there’s also challenge rooms, one found on each stage. These must be completed in order to achieve one of the stage’s three scrolls, and vary from the game’s usual mechanics due to each concentrating more on the puzzle aspect of the game. Ranging from simple box puzzles and flipping switches to avoiding a myriad of deadly lasers, these test the ninja’s skills to the max, and challenge the player’s mind as well as their reflexes. They’re welcome additions that break up the action quite nicely.
While there’s not much to be done after the campaign is completed, players can revisit any stage and collect any medals they might have missed, or they can challenge themselves to higher difficulty levels, that remove certain UI mechanics, like the sound cues, for the player while allowing the player to retain all the upgrades.
When it comes down to it, Klei Entertainment has crafted another side-scrolling masterpiece. While their previous games like the Shank series have concentrated on brawling and shooting, Mark of the Ninja is more about hiding in the shadows and taking out your enemies in style, and to tell you the truth, it’s amazing and refreshing. I look forward to where Klei takes the series in the future.