by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
When we were kids, there were times when we would run around and pretend to be ninjas. Now that we have grown up, we pretend like this was just a childhood fantasy, when secretly we would still love to be a stealthy assassin. Mark of the Ninja is the closest we can get to reliving that fantasy. Developer Klei Entertainment have created a fantastic game, and after a hugely successful summer where it was released on Xbox Live Arcade to great critical acclaim, it is now available on Steam.
The game begins in dramatic circumstances, with the attack of a ninja base by armed soldiers. You play as an unnamed member of the ninja clan, who is woken up by his female friend, Ora. He was passed out after receiving a tattoo with the ink from a rare desert flower. This ink grants the wearer extra special skills, but causes them to gradually begin to hallucinate and go insane over time. This means that to receive the tattoo, the ninja must promise to kill themselves once the madness takes hold by the ancient ritual of seppuku. The more immediate problem for our ninja friend and Ora is the defence of their base, and so the tutorial begins.
Mark of the Ninja is a 2d side scrolling stealth action game with some platforming elements thrown in for good measure. Your character is quite simply a joy to control, as you move around the environment so fluidly, and so simple. You can cling to any vertical wall and move up and down, as well as squeeze through air vents, or use your grappling hook to grab onto things such as tree branches or large light shades. You have a sword and a few other items at your disposal, but since you are up against men with guns, you will have to use stealth tactics to get past them, or kill them.
Luckily you play as a ninja, and they are very good at moving through the shadows. The stealth mechanic is very simple. If you are standing in light, your character is illuminated and guards will spot you. If you are not in the light, your character will be cloaked in shadow, and guards will not be able to spot you even if you are not very far away. This is all helped by the wonderful art style which is obviously very heavy with dark colours, but never looks dull. However it is not just visibility you have to worry about.
Guards will also investigate any noise they hear, so you have to move around slowly to avoid detection. This does provide you with opportunities for distraction though. Creating a sound in one place can allow you to sneak behind a guard for the kill, or to simply move around them and continue. There are also special items which can be used for this purpose. Darts can smash lights which will create darkness in the area, but this will also make a sound, putting anyone in the vicinity on alert. The noise maker does what you would expect it to do, and the spike trap can be placed to bring a gruesome end to any unaware guard.
Addictive gameplay. Gorgeous art style.
Story is lacking in some places.