Mark of the Ninja Review (Death's Door Prods Review)
THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON DEATHSDOORPRODS.COM
Stealth games and I have a sordid history together. I first tried to get into the genre with games like Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Hitman 2, but they never really did anything for me. I could get through a level with a FAQ or something but I never felt like I was accomplishing anything. I was just following an instruction manual to get to the end. But over the past few I’ve started to come back to the genre. With games like Assassin’s Creed, the Arkham games, and Sly Cooper (shut up, it counts), I’ve been getting more into stealth games. So when I first heard about Mark of the Ninja, I was pumped. A stealth game from the people that made Shank. I know some people out there were kind of meh on Shank but I really enjoyed it. Mark of the Ninja, however, is leaps and bounds ahead of Shank. This game is one my favorite stealth games and will probably be on my games of the year list.
It’s modern day, and ninja are a thing of the past. Or so we think. One ninja clan survived, and they are under attack. A corporation with its own highly trained and expensively equipped army is attacking your clan, and you are the only one who can stop them. You are given a tattoo to help you fight. But this tattoo isn’t like every other tattoo. The ink from this tattoo heightens all of your senses and gives you special abilities. Abilities you will need to defeat your enemies and save your clan. But, they come at a price. Once you are given the tattoo, it will slowly drive you mad. After you have completed your task, you must kill yourself. The clock is ticking.
The plot of this game and Shank have a kind of schlock movie appeal to them for me. They aren’t exactly complex and any big plot twists that happen in them aren’t going to leave you floored or anything. You’re reaction will probably be more along the lines of “Oh. That’s kinda cool.” Even the big plot twist at the end wasn’t exactly a revelation making everything we’ve seen up to that point make sense. There were some hints here and there but I barely even noticed them until the big twist near the end was revealed. But that doesn’t really matter because the premise is really cool. I mean, ninja with a magical tattoo killing hundreds of heavily armed mercenaries, what’s not to like about that. The story for this game isn’t going to enthrall you and keep you coming back, but it’s entertaining while it lasts and is played completely straight, which I think adds to it being pretty cool.
What will enthrall you and keep you coming back are the visuals. This is Klei we’re talking about, and one thing you can always count on Klei for is fantastic art direction. Every character design has some great detail to them. Sure, all the designs repeat because they are all just generic soldiers and who cares if they have individuality, but each design that does exist is really great, especially on your character. Your magical tattoo has a lot of detail in it, and when we can see the full thing it looks amazing. If I wasn’t a complete pussy and could actually stomach having a needle shoved into my skin over and over again I might have considered getting this tattoo at some point. Plus each costume that is unlockable for you character looks great, as well. Two of the costumes look kind of like pallet swaps of each other, but you can easily tell which costume is which and they have their own appeal. All of the levels look great, too. While you can definitely see the same type of repetition as the enemies with assets used multiple times, each one is laid out in a different way that gives you lots of options to approach a problem.
But what is key about the visuals is that all the necessary information about the game is given through the visuals. In other stealth games, you have a visibility meter or some text that says “Hidden,” even though you can still see yourself perfectly fine. There’s none of that here. If you are visible, you are fully colored. If you are not visible, you are completely black except for the white outline around your character and the red of your magic tattoo. It’s completely binary. There are no moments where your visibility is at 20% and some enemy spots you and you call bullshit. You know exactly how visible you are at any given moment. Same goes for the guards. You can look at any guard and know exactly how far they can see. Even if you can see them, you can still see small sound circles emanating from their footsteps, which let’s you stay completely hidden and still be able to map out the guards’ routes and plan you strategy for how you’re going to murder everyone.
Speaking of sound, that is also portrayed the visuals. A bit weird but fuck it, it’s awesome. You have various ways of distracting guards, from smashing lights to setting off noise makers. Most of these ways are through items. When you use items, because of your magical tattoo, time stops and gives you a chance to see how your items will play out. When time is stopped and you are setting up an item, a sound circle surrounds it, showing you which guards will be close enough to hear and come investigate, giving you a chance to move them where you want and then slit them from top to bottom. This works amazingly well. Now there’s no more of that guess work I’ve seen in so many other stealth game where you have to throw your item out there and hope the enemy is close enough for it to have any effect. The sound circles don’t just come of off your items, though. You even give them off. If you’re running or grappling, you’ll give off your own sound circles which will also draw the attention of guards. So not only do you always know how visible you are, you are also always aware of how loud you are being. And again, this can be used to your advantage. To lure guards to certain spots to make your life easier.
Even if a game had all the fanciest ways of conveying information to the player, it wouldn’t mean shit if the gameplay wasn’t up to snuff. Mark of the Ninja is definitely up to snuff. Pretty much everything I wanted to do in this game, I was able to do with no difficulty control wise. Grapple up to the roof, knock out a light, throw down a spike mine, and wait for the guards to trundle along and impale himself, scaring another guard into falling off of a building. With everything you have at your disposal, pulling off something like that will be difficult but entirely possible. In fact, I think that’s actually one of the side objectives.
At one point or another, every item you have on you will be useful at some point. On top of your standard throwing knives, you have two classes of items: Distraction and Attack. Distraction items are things like smoke bombs and noise makers. They draw guards’ attention and help conceal you. They can even help you get by lasers. Attack items are used to, well, attack. These include the spike mines I mentioned earlier and these awesome bug things that can get you an easy one hit kill. All the items except the throwing knives are limited, though, meaning you have to choose when to use them very carefully. You could use up all you attack items killing and terrorizing people and then get to a room where you desperately need some poison darts and you’re shit out of luck.
Killing isn’t your only option, though, and that’s where this game gets pretty cool. Each stage grades you at the end based off of three criteria. The first criteria is your points total. You get points in the game by doing things like killing guards, picking locks, or going undetected. If you play it right, you will be able to get around 1200 points per guard kill. But it’s possible to get just as many points without killing a single person. If no guards see you and you don’t kill anyone, you get bonuses at the end which can tip you points total into the highest level, granting you more honor. Honor is what’s used to purchase or upgrade techniques and items. These can include increasing the amount of distraction or attack items you can carry, new stealth kills, more armor, or a box, the ultimate stealth technique.
You can earn a maximum of nine honor each level. Three of those nine come from points. Another three of those nine come from the Voice of the Hisomu scrolls, on the two collectibles in this game. The Voice of the Hisomu are scrolls that are found in levels, with three per level. The scrolls, which are all written in haiku, give some backstory on your clan. They are all well written, but I’m just picturing the guy whose job it is to write out every haiku in the game. Went through years of computer training and programming work and now he has to write haikus. That probably isn’t what happened but I like to think it is. Most of these scrolls are just laying out in the open at the end of a really out of the way air duct, but some of them are at the ends of special challenge rooms. These are accessed through giant magical gongs that hidden in levels, pretty sure only one per level, and test you shit. They can be very… well, challenging, having you use every skill you have to get through the maze of spikes, pressure plates, and lasers. I really enjoyed playing through them and giving me a chance to take a bit of a break from the dumbass guards not realizing that all of the lights going out and the other guys they were with suddenly vanishing is the work of the ninja you’re fighting, not just rats. The other collectibles are artifacts, which just add to the points.
The final three honor come from Seal objectives. These are side objectives that are unique to each level. There are four types of Seal objectives: Might, which are aggressive style objectives, Assassination, killing based objectives, Stealth, ninja type objectives, and Terror, the “make the guards shit there pants” kind of objectives. The types of Seal objectives, as well as the actual objectives, change from level to level, giving a nice sense of variety with the side objectives. After completing three of a certain type of objective you unlock a new suit. Each suit has its own look, but two of them do look pretty similar, as well as its pros and cons. For example, one suit makes you completely silent, even if you’re running, and lets you carry two distraction items instead of one, but you can’t carry your sword. Or one makes you stronger, able to take more damage on top of whatever armor you already purchased as well, but time will not freeze when you are focusing. So it can be a toss up going into a level if you want to be stealthier or more aggressive.
But don’t let those armor upgrades and new costumes fool you, stealth is always the best option. Magical tattoo, ninja hating corporations, and everything else aside, this is a bit more of a realistic take on ninja. At least when it comes to how much damage they can take. Of course, it’s nowhere near any form of actual realism, but you cannot take very many shots before you die. When you start the game, you only have three health. That means three shots from a regular gun and you’re dead. Later in the game you run into guards that can take you down in less than three shots. Stealth is most effective way to play this game.
If there is one thing I am not that fond of, it’s the fact that the buttons are all context sensitive. In order to execute a stealth kill on a guard, you need to be within a few in game inches before the button prompt will come up saying you can stealth kill. A few times I was rushing and ended up just smacking the guy and setting off an alarm. Other times I was carrying a body and needed to drop it down a vent. So I would drag the body over and see I have to unlock the vent. I drop the body and press B to pick the lock. But instead I pick up the body again. I do this four or five times before I just say “Fuck it” and leave the body there. Pushing a button expecting it to do one thing and instead doing something else can get very annoying in this game. Especially if you are trying to pull of a plan that needs perfect timing.
But that is just a very small complaint on top of what is an absolutely amazing game. The artistic style is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Klei, the way they work all of the details you need to know to pull of some great kills into the environment is really impressive, and while the gameplay can be a bit frustrating, those moments very few and very far between. For most of the game, the gameplay is exactly what you need it to be. Like I said near the beginning, the story will not bring up any kind of emotion or even be that memorable (except for the ending, anyway), but it’s got that old B movie appeal to it and will keep you entertained enough. This game is phenomenal, and you should definitely check it out.