Excellent from start to finish
You may be getting slightly tired of arcade titles that come and go offering a limited amount of fun that you simply abandon after a while. In the age of triple A titles one can get accustomed to the big show and end up missing out on smaller venues along the way. Mark of the Ninja is a game that demonstrates how an arcade title can pack as much depth and enjoyment as it's full price, shelf contemporaries.
From the makers of Shank, Mark of the Ninja is despite the inherent stealth premise a fast paced action game oozing with style and spot on controls. You take on the role of the titular ninja who in order to aid his clan must take on ancient markings in the form of tattoos that expand his senses and grant the player unique abilities. Mark of the Ninja is divided into self contained levels which all have unique goals and objectives to accomplish in order to progress in the story. The action on screen plays out like a 2D side scroller with numerous and unique filters in place of shadow gems or light meters found in past stealth titles. Your character will be depicted in full color when out of the shadows, and a dark silhouette with red tattoos when in hiding or out of the light for instance. All sound cues such as foot steps or breaking a light are represented by sonar-like bubbles which indicate who will get alerted from said noise in it's radius. Things which you can't directly see are opaque and blurred forcing you to peek out of vents if you wish to get a clear picture of your surroundings. Each level is typically traversed from left to right, evading or dispatching guards in various ways in order to reach your objectives which can vary from opening gas valves in order to torch an entire building, to sneaking a security badge off key characters to open up the exit to the level.
What really makes Mark of the Ninja stand out are the spot on extremely tight controls. You are quick and agile, able to cling on to vertical surfaces, walk over ceilings and use a grappling hook to zip onto far away perches. Lending an even bigger level of control is the ability to completely freeze time at any moment to aim your throwing darts with pin point precision. All actions are beautifully animated and smooth as silk - if you have played Shank in the past you can expect the same high level of polish in the animation department. The nimble nature of your character makes traversing all areas a ton of fun. Although all levels can be played through in a completely non lethal manner, stalking the guards along the way feels extremely satisfying as the game truly induces a power trip fantasy of being a shadowy ninja that can strike from anywhere at anytime. There is a satisfying feeling of freedom where you rarely encounter walls you can't climb over, or chasms too big to leap - rather the game concentrates on letting you choose the route most suited to your playstyle through each level. You can methodically take out all guards from start to finish, or make use of vents and ceiling ladders to quietly sneak on by, the choice is up to you.
Aiding your adventure are active and passive abilities as well as offensive and defensive items although you always have throwing darts which help in taking out lights or luring guards to your location. Offensive items such as a floor trap which kills guards with deadly spikes, or a poison dart which makes them go insane and shoot their allies are more oriented towards the lethal style of gameplay. Defensive or distraction items feature fire crackers to lure out stray foes or smoke bombs to sneak past laser beams and groups of guards. As you progress through the levels and story, you gain new tattoos which open up new unique abilities as well as multiple upgrades purchasable between and inside missions. These can range from passive effects like a smaller sound radius for when you run to active abilities like new ways to assassinate from hiding - such as the extremely satisfying move of stringing up a guard with a chain from a perch and letting them hang to terrorize other guards in the vicinity. In addition to all of this the player can also take on unique goals presented in each level that earn them points which go towards unlocking new ninja suits with their own special properties. There is the path of aggression, stealth and fear which all have their own corresponding pros and cons when donning the suit. For example the stealth suit completely eliminates sound when you run and doubles the amount of distraction items you can carry, but you don't get any offensive items and can't carry a sword which means each level by necessity would have to be played through in a non lethal manner. The suits are in no way necessary to beat the game and I found myself playing through the entirety with the default setup, but attaining the respective points is a fun challenge and ads diversity to each level.
Mark of the Ninja is highly polished and extremely fun even if you don't necessarily like stealth games. The action moves at a brisk pace and your character is quick and agile where sneaking in the shadows never feels like a drag. The story while not a Pulitzer candidate is completely above and beyond anything you'd expect from an arcade title and features a great ending which is something that quite frankly we haven't seen much of in recent releases. With nice enemy and level variety, great sound design and simply beautiful artwork, Mark of the Ninja hits all the high notes. Sitting at a mere $15 and offering a decent length campaign with a New Game + mode that introduces a higher level of challenge while keeping all your upgrades, this is a perfect game to tide you over until the next big release on the calendar. Simply put, if you like fun this is your game.