Over the years, there have been a lot of ninja games. Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, and Tenchu have all done their unique takes on the ninja genre. While they were been good in their own ways, they’ve all missed out on the most important thing a ninja game should do – make you feel like a ninja. This seems obvious, but in Ninja Gaiden for example, you are just running around hacking people left and right. A ninja should be stealthy, clever, and most of all a total badass. This is a tall order, but when it all comes together, you get one of the best games I’ve ever played.
In Mark of the Ninja for XBLA, you play a ninja who has been chosen to seek revenge on a force that has attacked your clan. You have been given special tattoos that will make you more powerful. Lets get this out of the way real quick, the story is not the strongest part of the game. It gets you going, gives you something to do, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It does its job. Moving on, the point of this game is stealth. Don’t let that scare you. Stealth has done you wrong for so long, you’ve probably forgotten how good it can be.
Stealth is actually fun in Mark of the Ninja. You have to move through the 2D world, grappling from hook to hook and sneaking through shadows in order to reach your assigned objective. Every stealthy thing you do gives you points and every time you alert a guard you lose points. When you are being stealthy, you feel like a complete badass. You are very powerful and it makes you the hunter. In most stealth games, you are hiding for your life, and one shine of a flash light will send you back to a checkpoint. The complete oppossite is true in Mark of the Ninja, while getting spotted can lead to an early death, its not the end of the world. You can fight your way out of most situations but, if you’re stealthy, taking out enemies couldn’t be easier or more fun.
You start with limited capabilities. You can walk up behind someone to kill them stealthfully. And if you match the directional prompt on screen, you will kill them silently. As the game progresses, you gain more abilities of your choosing. I particularly like the bat, where you drop down on your enemies and kill them mid-fall. I will drop down and kill a guard, wait for someone to see the corpse and come running at it, and drop down for another kill.
This being just one of numerous ways you can set up your prey. You also get a variety of items throughout the game. You can take out lights, throw smoke bombs, and a whole assortment of ninja tools. Each scenario in the level is like a puzzle, and you’ll have to use all your tricks and tools to get through it perfectly. Figuring each area is very satisfying and rarely frustrating thanks to the excellent visual cues in the game.
All the aspects of the stealth are well defined. Any time you make a sound, a ring appears showing where and how far your sound is going. About to break a light, you can see how many guards will hear it. Guards have a vision cone that shows exactly where they will pick you out. All these cues make stealth fun instead of frustrating. If you get caught, its never the games fault. It clearly shows you how you screwed up.
The game is fast, fluid, and polished. The controls are precise and the stealth action is unmatched. I really hope this marks a change for the stealth genre, because I want more. Simply put, the best ninja game of all time.
This review is based on a retail copy of Mark of the Ninja provided by Klei. It is an XBLA exclusive.