After enjoying success on the Xbox 360 Mark of the Ninja has made its way to the PC.
The first thing that Mark of the Ninja reminded me of was N, the flash game from way back in 2005. What Klei Entertainment did was add all the trimmings and focus on stealth and problem solving instead of action. Klei actually helped develop the Xbox 360 version of N+.
This means adding narrative, high quality art assets and animations, cutscenes, combat mechanics and sound design. Oh, and an unrivaled stealth system in the 2D platformer genre.
How do you do stealth well? Make it very obvious to the player when they will be caught, how they were caught and what caught them. Mark of the Ninja communicates all of these elements via sound and graphical cues that make it feel natural along with enemies that will punish you for being detected.
From key colour changes to graphics showing where sounds reach, Mark of the Ninja helps the player feel like a ninja without making it feel like godmode.
It feels great!
Mark of the Ninja also brought back some old Tomb Raider puzzle nostalgia for me. Every room you enter is a small puzzle with a few enemies and various objects to use to progress. Sometimes you can skip rooms entirely and there are almost always multiple paths through or around objectives.
There are the challenge levels inside story maps which present you with no enemies or stealth elements but give you a lot of switches, traps and blocks. It’s not simply a matter of press every button and you’ll get by; you have to figure out which order to do things in and some require speed and precision in your actions as well. These felt like an accomplishment every time I beat one but the way they were hidden meant I would randomly come across them.
There are continually new puzzle pieces and enemy types added to the game as you proceed. The game does a great job of introducing this element to you with voice over and a simple puzzle before ramping up the difficulty. I do feel like they throw away old pieces too quickly and never quite reach those super difficult puzzles.
This is definitely a game that needs a controller. Actions are strangely split between hands with a mouse and keyboard. When played on a controller it has very smooth, tight controls that allow you to pull of some fantastic maneuvres.
But it’s not perfect…
While the mechanics are quite solid I found a few times where I was frustrated with the context sensitive input. Clinging onto a wall directly behind an enemy I couldn’t drop down or stab him from the wall, the only option was to jump which would get his attention. On other occasions I would be sneaking up behind an enemy and not be able to perform a takedown despite being very close. Attempting a takedown resulted in kicking them and alerting them.
The most frustrating part of a game that involves a lot of trial and error is the restart sequence. You know you’ve failed what you’re trying to do (or maybe just exactly how you wanted to do it). In Super Meat Boy or N it is a very fast death to any of many nearby dangers and you can try again within a couple seconds. In Mark of the Ninja I found myself searching for something that would kill me and sometimes the AI takes a couple seconds to actually get through all your health. One time a soldier just stood and stared at me while I was in front of him. The death/restart animations take slightly too long for a game that shouldn’t really punish you for death.
Although Mark of the Ninja has a plot it never really grabbed me. Boring cutscenes and slow cinematic walks to boss fights got in the way of fantastic stealth gameplay. If anything it seems to get in the way more than add to the experience.
The character advancement seems to hinder the puzzle solving as well. Every time I would use an item it felt more like cheating past a guard instead of solving a problem but none of the problems were difficult enough that it seemed necessary.
Worth your money? Hell yeah.
The main campaign can be completed in under 10 hours but there’s tons of replayability between collectibles, a new game+ mode and other things to unlock.
You will certainly feel like your money and time have been well spent. This game is polished and unique. It shows that an indie studio can make a brilliant game.