Mark of the Ninja is the result of a romantic interlude between Metal Gear Solid and classic NES-era Ninja Gaiden.
Every now and again, a game comes along that offers a mix of familiar experiences but puts them in a new package. Sometimes, if the idea is too ambitious, it ends in failure (or at least doesn’t attract the attention it deserves). In other situations it works out perfectly and gamers, fully-satisfied, ask themselves, “Why hasn’t somebody thought of this sooner??!”
Mark of the Ninja is an example of taking tried-and-true gameplay features, and presenting it in a new and entertaining way, all the while further developing the idea of a brand new video game genre: stealth platforming.
Mark of the Ninja is a 2-D side-scrolling action game, like Super Mario Bros., but is more suitably like old-school, NES-style Ninja Gaiden. (You all know what classic Ninja Gaiden is, right??!)
In Mark of the Ninja, you are a ninja assassin. Doing your ninja duties has never felt so satisfying.
The story unfolds in a series of levels, and just like an arcade game, once you compete a level, you are scored and give a rank. While Mark of the Ninja is a linear game, with a distinct goal, there are also secondary objectives, which offer a unique challenge for those who pride themselves on their video game prowess. Sure, you can plow your way through each level, haphazardly dropping fools while making a ruckus, OR you can try and be stealthy, working your way though without being seen, or killing a single guard.
If you’ve ever played a Metal Gear Solid game, you’ll know what to expect with Mark of the Ninja’s stealth game play. You’ll need to stay out of an enemy’s line of sight, stick to the shadows, and don’t make a sound. If you can follow those rules, you’ll be fine.
The developers did a great job of giving visual queues to the alerts. If you’re spotted, you’ll receive a audible alarm sound, you’ll hear the enemy react to you, and will be a highlighted area where you were spotted letting you know to hightail it outta there, or face in a one-on-one battle. While ninjas may be tough, fighting an enemy head-on will often result in your death. Especially if they have backup, it only takes a few bullet rounds in your belly before you’re dead. So… Stick to the shadows, and kill them.
In addition to armed guards, there will be turrets that are triggered by a trip wire, and motion censors. You’ll also come across dogs which have a larger radius of detection, as they can smell your presence. The interesting thing is that while you’ll stab a guy through the back to kill him, you’ll only knock out dogs with a swift punch. I suppose Klei Entertainment is a big animal supporter (or maybe it’s just not cool for ninjas to kill dogs) – and we’re cool with whatever reason.
There is also a cool “fog of war” like effect that will show you an enemy’s last known position, when you’re hiding.
As a ninja, you’ll get the traditional tools of the trade, sharp-ass sword, throwing knives, and smoke bombs. You’ll also get spike mines, which kill unsuspecting enemies as they step over them. Terror darts will make enemies lose control and attack and kill each other. In an homage to Metal Gear Solid, there is also a cardboard box which you can use to hide if cover is unavailable. Most items and weapons can be upgraded to be more damaging or be more efficient, using points that you’ll acquire while progressing through the game.
The game does require a bit of suspension of disbelief. Like familiar stealth-action games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, your goal is to remain unseen, until killing is absolutely necessary, and when you’re spotted, or a dead body is found, the enemy goes on high alert — but only for awhile. Like 10 seconds. Even if they see your clumsy ninja-ass climb into an air vent or run down the hall, they’re pursue you for only a short while, before calling off the search and reporting that everything is back to normal. It’s a video game, or course. It wouldn’t be fun if the enemy hunted you down like the dog you are, until you were dead.
Overall, Mark of the Ninja is probably one of the most satisfying games to hit the Xbox Live Marketplace in quite awhile. Priced at 1200 Microsoft Points (or $15 USD), Mark of the Ninja is worth every penny.
There may be other games in the market that offer side-scrolling, stealthy gameplay, I don’t think there is one that does it quite as well as Mark of the Ninja. It’s like a mix of classic 2-D Ninja Gaiden mixed with the stealth gameplay of Metal Gear Solid.
As a final thought, I usually go into a little more detail, but I’m going to put phrase it this way: Get it, it’s awesome!