Developer(s) – Klei Entertainment
Publisher(s) – Microsoft Studios
Mark of the Ninja is an indie 2D platformer, with a strong element of stealth, and using weapons and equipment to the keep the player hidden from the enemy as opposed to attacking them head-on. This game is an incredibly unique experience for many reasons, and to me, one of the most standout indie titles to have been developed before the recent influx of them throughout the eighth generation.
Graphics – 9/10
Very much like in their later game, Don’t Starve, the game’s visuals seem to be based on a pre-existing artistic style; in this case, that of Genndy Tartakovsky, who worked on the creation of such cartoon series’ as Dexter’s Laboratory, and most significantly, Samurai Jack. The whole thing looks like something out of Cartoon Network, but only with a much darker and grittier atmosphere. The sound effects throughout are also put to good use to maintain that atmosphere, as they are also integral to the structure of gameplay.
Gameplay – 8/10
I would best describe this game as Splinter Cell with a hint of Feudal Japan. The objective is to sneak past enemies using various different tools, weapons and environmental shortcuts and hiding places to get around. Points are awarded for remaining undetected, going through levels without killing enemies, and hiding bodies if the player does decide to kill. Light and sound sources can be used to manipulate enemy behaviour to player’s advantage, and attacking them head-on is very ill advised. It’s provides a very different take on games including ninjas, and makes for an incredibly immersing 2D side scrolling experience.
Controls – 10/10
In terms of controls, although there should never have been any real issues, the control scheme has been handled quite well. Movement is very smooth, and there are a multitude of different features that players can use to get around; a number of things unusual for a game of it’s kind.
Lifespan – 4/10
Clocking up at about 5 hours, it unfortunately lasts about as long as the average modern-day 2D side scroller, and I can’t help but think that this had been a Metroidvania game, then it would have lasted a greater amount of time longer. There was certainly more room for a greater amount of side quests in the game anyway, and I believe it’s criminal for such a unique experience to also be a very fleeting one. Klei Entertainment would go on to address this issue in Don’t Starve, but if a sequel ever does happen, then I think it would be easy to expand upon what they achieved with this game.
Storyline – 8/10
The story follows an unnamed ninja, who after awaking from an extensive irezumi tattoo, realizes his clan is under attack, and manages to save his sensei Azai, with the hep of his ally, Ora. He learns that the tattoo he has acquired affords him heightened sensory abilities, but will ultimately drive him progressively deeper into madness. The Ninjas resolve to take their revenge against the organization responsible for the attack on their clan after the ninja vows to commit seppuku once the madness starts to take hold on him. As far as the ninja archetype goes, the developers hit the nail on the head. The main character’s name is never revealed, he never speaks, he keeps his face hidden, wears navy blue attire, uses his tools for things other than attacking enemies and he does his best to preserve his stealth, and not go kill-crazy. But as far as the main story goes, it’s also very engrossing, and has a good few twists and turns before the end.
Originality – 10/10
Especially in this day and age, it’s particularly difficult to create an original game in the 2D side scrolling genre, since the formula has been long-since perfect, and long-since worked on by a multitude of big-name developers over the last 30 years. This game is perhaps one of the most unique side scrollers I’ve seen for many years now, since gameplay elements taken from newer genres add a great deal to the 2D platforming formula, making it go leaps and bounds against many other games released in the genre today.
Overall, Mark of the Ninja is an exceptional indie game, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who owns an Xbox 360. It could have been made to last longer, but I’m hoping that’s where a possible sequel may come in.