Ninja SurviveA breath of fresh air!
Mark of the Ninja is a downloadable title from Klei Entertainment, the developer behind such games as Shank, Shank 2, n+ and so on. A complete list of the company's games can be found here!
It's an Xbox 360 exclusive title too, so you can only get it from XBLA at the moment for 1200 points, and it's worth every single one of those points. Old skool, new paint job
Mark of the Ninja is an action/stealth/platformer in the vein of Shadow Complex or Flashback. It takes us back to the old days of games like Saboteur (not the Saboteur mind you) and builds on the company's excellent track record with Shank. Mark of the Ninja is a vastly different game and takes all the lessons learned from Shank 1 and 2, n+ and then some. It's a beautiful love-letter to old school gaming with modern controls and design.Story
Mark of the Ninja weaves an action-packed story of betrayal, ninja action, violence and subterfuge all wrapped up in the mythos of a mystical ink, an ink that bestows great and terrible power on anyone tattooed with it. There is a cost though, the ink drives you mad according to lore and you must take your own life. Enter the ninja, marked with the supernatural ink and driven towards revenge after a vicious attack on his clan. It's great stuff and it's told with a beautiful animated style that really shines and is leaps ahead of that used in Shank 2.Gameplay
Right off the bat, Mark of the Ninja has solid gameplay with tight controls and smooth level design. You can play your ninja how you want, you can earn Seals by doing special tasks in each level, earn more Seals by getting a good score and finding all the secret scrolls. Up to 9 Seals can be earned per level and you can buy various skills/equipment/tools upgrades between levels, as well as from special upgrade flags found on most levels.
There are various costumes to unlock to help you hone the play-style or Path you want to take as the ninja. Each one has several pros, but often comes with a con. For example, the Path of Silence lets you run silently, equip two distraction items – but you cannot use a sword, which means no kills at all. You must play like a shadow and flit carefully from place to place to avoid being spotted. It transforms the way the game plays instantly.
It is possible to complete a level without being spotted or killing a single guard. It's not easy to do, but the feeling of satisfaction coupled with the very responsive, tight and sensibly designed control system makes it entirely possible to achieve after you've spent a few hours with the game. You can replay levels to get a better score or just try out new tactics/equipment. Basically, it's setup perfectly to make you want to play the game and not be frustrated by it.
There are generous checkpoints throughout the vast levels and lots of secrets to discover.
The ninja is highly controllable and can move around the levels with cat-like grace: jumping, hiding, running, dodging and clambering without too much trouble. He begins with very little in the way of skills/powers/abilities but as the game progresses and you unlock more – he becomes a badass in every way.
Once you get a few of the stealth kills from hiding spots and grates, you can really transform the way you approach the levels. If you want to hang from a grapple point with your grapple hook, lower yourself down and strangle the bad guy with your chain, you can do. Leaving him strung up like a macabre puppet for his buddies to find. This will usually terrify them and they might start shooting wildly, killing their comrades in the process.
Stealth kills (unless you have the Path of the Hunter) are triggered by a quick-time event button press combo. They're all pretty easy to perform so you won't miss out at all.
Dragging guards into hiding spots will net you a nice little hidden body bonus though, so if you're aiming for a solid high score, you will want to think carefully about how you hide your enemies, how you use your ninja techniques and how you want to play.
There are numerous guards, guard types, dogs, puzzles and platformer elements to take into account over the big levels. Unless you're wearing a particular costume, you can take advantage of focus time, by holding the left trigger. This lets you aim at objects in the world, such as lights or power boxes, with your throwing darts and break them.
A broken light can distract a guard; a damaged power box can shut off a trap.
The game pays attention to light and sound in an excellent way, it marks footsteps when you can't see an enemy but you're close enough to sense them. It gives you an idea of where they once were if you break line of sight and tracks your own footfalls if you move too quickly. Guards will hear you, they will come looking and they are very good at ferreting you out if you make a mistake.
The way that Mark of the Ninja uses light is simple, if things are muted or black and white, you're hidden, if you can see yourself in full colour – you're visible.
Guards also have line of sight, cones of vision and react based on luminosity levels in the area. If you're lit up by a searchlight, expect most of them to spot you unless you can hide or get out the way. You can use this trick of course to lure in guards, because they will come and investigate suspicious activity. So you can pop into view, then out again to get their attention – beware though, they're not dumb in that regard and they might decide to call an alarm.