By Kristofer Hammer
You are the silent shadow on the prowl. Kill the lights, distract the guards: kill one and terrorize the other.
This is a common, simple approach found in most other stealth genre games; however, this method is far from the only one.
What Mark of the Ninja, released in 2012, does better than most other games in its genre is allow players to choose between a wide variety of unseen approaches.
Klei Entertainment has done a near-perfect job of placing players in the shoes of history’s most shrouded and seemingly mystical warriors by giving them enough options to deal with each encounter in a satisfying and meaningful way, ultimately comprising of what makes a game part of the stealth genre.
Kills executed in Mark of the Ninja can be quick and concise or, conversely, a slow and patient waiting game; this decision is left up to each individual player.
Klei Entertainment, however, tries to provide incentive to remain undetected by introducing a unique scoring element. Points can be awarded to game players depending on the cleanliness, method or stealth of each kill, or even for completing a level without killing anyone at all.
While a certain amount of points can be used to unlock various skill upgrades, they are by no means used to restrict the player in how they wish to perform.
The artistic style is both spectacular and reminiscent of games that Klei Entertainment has made in the past, creating a sense of place with each new location.
The game hardly feels like a repetitive experience, since each level is constructed with an amazing amount of detail in both its visual and technical design. The animation of both the controlled avatar as well as the enemies is fluid and satisfying. The character moves in an exact manner, and the controls are tight.
While the mechanical execution is arguably the most exciting and compelling reason to play this game, Mark of the Ninja features a surprising tale with a very interesting conclusion.
Although this is not the major selling point for Mark of the Ninja, the story creates both an interesting lore and several issues that the player must confront in the game’s final moments.
While the game in its entirety is reasonable in length, taking approximately six to eight hours to successfully complete, my primary reason for returning to each level after I had finished was to explore the skill unlockables.
By collecting a high enough score, acquiring scrolls or completing the side objectives as mentioned above, points are accumulated and can be spent on a variety of useful skills and tools. This includes several added stealth skills, ranging from those that make enemy engagement much easier to a man-eating beetle that terrorizes nearby foes.
Aside from this, a wide array of costumes can also be unlocked, and each of these comes with its own specific enhancements and detractions that mix up combat, adding to the complexity of the game.
It is easy to overlook this game because of its indie downloadable title. While I do have some complaints, my overall impression is positive. The year 2012 was a great year for both the stealth genre and the choice in player decision, and Mark of the Ninja comes in the lead in terms of gameplay precision and satisfaction.
It takes a ninja to show what ninjas do best, and stealth gameplay like this has reaped the benefits.