After playing Marking of the Ninja, I've come to realize that there haven't really been to many stealth games. There have been lots of games with a stealth element to it and some may even claim to build their game around this one mechanic, but in Mark of the Ninja - Stealth truly is the main focus with everything else being the icing on the cake.
The closest thing I can think of to Mark of the Ninja would be games like the Batman Arkham series and maybe Splinter Cell. But the thing that faults Batman is that whenever you F up a stealth section of the game, you either take a massive pounding from baddies or you totally loose the given level. Plus overall you feel like a dick head for making a silly mistake.
Ninja's don't make mistakes and if they do, they know how to recover from it - and keep looking bad ass.
Mark of the Ninja puts you behind the hidden blade of an unnamed hero who is charged with avenging his clan. To aid in his quest he is inscribed with tattoos penned with ink made from a scared flower, which gives the wearer of the Tattoos almost Supernatural like reflexes. This comes with a price however as who ever wears the ink is cursed to go insane, so at the end of the given task the wearer must end his life, less he becomes a threat to the clan.
Some folks say the story for Mark of the Ninja isn't very deep, but for me that set up is pretty damn awesome. By now I know that the crew over at Klei Entertainment grew up watching the same stuff I did as a kid, as evident from the influences on their awesome Shank games, and here Mark of the Ninja reminds me of the awesome Ninja flicks I watched growing up (Except The American Ninja - I wanna forget about those films)
So you embark on your mission. Your sword and kunai ready for the kill, but as a Ninja... your best weapon is the darkness.
The first thing that struck me as I started up the game was the beautiful cut scenes. This could be a show on TV - it's that good. Next I stared in aw at the amazing world that was stretched out before me. Mark of the Ninja has to be one of the best looking games out there. Forget 2D games - just across the board this game is gorgeous. To look at a screen shot does it no justice, to watch the world live and breath is a thing of beauty.
Second thing that struck me about Mark of the Ninja is the tight controls. You move exactly how you want to move through the environment, with every step and every grapple precisely executed whenever you want it. There is very little room to fault buttons and such for the errors you make. There is however one issue I had and it's best we get it out of the way now because the rest of this article will be me praising the shit out this game.
There is a context sensitive button, that lets you pick up bodies or hide behind things. If you drop a guy near a pot plant, chances are you'll hide when you wanna pick him up or pick him up if you wanna hide. This has gotten me killed a few times, but that was when I was but a fledgling Ninja - such bull shit no longer hinders my game.
Aside from the tight controls there is the addition of these sound pulses that emit from noise sources. When you run, they circle out from your feet, letting you know how far the sound will reach. When you line up a Kunai with a light, it will show who will hear the sound of it breaking. This makes you want to be very very quiet, calculating every move you make, so as not to be seen but also not heard.
There's this really cool feature where you "Focus" and time slows down, allowing you to mark and execute things like smoke bombs, multiple kunai hits and a whole host of other cool moves. Needless to say it really ups the "bad ass" factor every time you pull this move off.
With all these things in play, you'll find yourself looking out for short cuts, enemy patterns, and that right moment to move on unseen or make that mad ass kill. Playing through the game really reminded me a lot of Metal Gear solid
and even a little bit of Super meat boy because of levels involving
lasers. Strangely though it never reminded me of Tenchu, which is what i thought it would throw back to.
As with most things in 2D, the platform elements play a huge part in this game, and this game means business when it comes to precession timing and jumps. But that's not to say you have too play the game a certain way. The biggest flaw with most stealth games is that you need to consciously play them a certain way to get the most out of them.
In Mark of the Ninja you are a Ninja. No
two ways about it. You are made to strike hard from the shadows, and fade
away ... with out a trace. And though the game emphasizes this by
awarding points every time you move by a guard unseen, it does also
congratulate you for your straight out kills, provided they are stylish and classy -
like a Ninja should be killing.
As I mentioned earlier, unlike most 'stealth' games where you feel like a
klutz when you get caught, Mark of the Ninja allows you to recover from
your mistakes with class. Smoke bombs, kunais to lights, near by vents, if you see it you can use it as a means to infiltrate or escape. It is one of the few games that truly allows you to do things your way. I think the biggest factor in this is Klei's approach to the game. Stripping away all the non essential bull shit that clutter most other games (I'm looking at you Dishonored) Mark of the Ninja aims to give you one thing only - a ninja sim. So it encompasses all the things that makes Ninjas so damn cool, and provides you with an environment that lets you go nuts.
There is some serious gaming to be had here and I think Klei have really out done the stealth genre, taking in to account every innovation in the genre that has come before and building on it greatly with Mark of the Ninja. After all this the true fun of the games comes from the narrow escapes and sudden reactions of "run" or "kill" that keep you at the edge of your seat through out. Bascially using all the mechanics to play the game, while still making your own personal story.
I really can't think of anything else to say except that Mark of the Ninja is freaking awesome and if you enjoy great gaming experiences, you owe it to yourself to check it out.