Many gamers have become frustrated with stealth games, but I am not one of them. I enjoy waiting patiently, making mistakes, failing, and repeating the whole process over until I get it perfect. Where most people see this as a waste of time, there is a sense of pride that overwhelms you when a plan is executed perfectly. Mark of the Ninja is a game that allows you to do this, but doesn’t waste your time by forcing you to go through the deliberate paces of a stealth game. It gives you all the tools and abilities that a ninja would need, and doesn’t rely on pattern memorization for success. It breaks the eternal rule of ‘if you trigger an alarm, you’re screwed’ which makes the game flow better than any stealth game I have played. There is no better feeling after entering a room, taking out all of the guards, and disappearing into the night without anyone knowing you were there. Mark of the Ninja allows you to do this with ease and on a regular basis, and leaves you feeling like a stealth master.
Problem 1: Action and Consequences
Coming off two Shank titles, Klei has proven that they can do a highly stylized game. I thought Shank was a competent brawler, but it was a case of style over substance. Mark of the Ninja retains the beautiful, yet brutal, cartoonish demeanor of Klei but wraps it around fluid stealth gameplay. After playing Hitman, Thief, Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell and Tenchu, no one would expect a stealth game to succeed in only two dimensions. It begins with tight controls which allow you to climb, grapple, and crawl your way throught the beautifully designed levels. Holding the left trigger pauses the action, giving you a chance to cue up actions and upon release you can see them unfold. This simple design choice eliminates many of the problems of earlier stealth games since you never know what an action may do. Mark of the Ninja solves this with one mechanic and provides the player with a fluid stealth action system that we have yet to see in the genre.
Problem 2: Why did that just happen?
Too many times in a game do you trigger an alarm, sit perplexed at the screen and wonder, “Why did that just happen?” A major issue with stealth games is that they do not provide enough information to the player on why something happens the way it did, and most of the time I chalk it up to random chance and not my terrible hiding skills. Mark of the Ninja makes some interesting choices in how information is relayed to the player. When you’re in the shadows, your character is a black silhouette and hidden from sight. Move into the light and you are in full color. It’s a subtle, yet ingenious method to let me know if I’m going to be detected or not. Sound detection is another challenge that stealth games struggle with, and Klei utilizes the 2D space to solve this issue. Any sound that is made gives a visual circular ping, which radiates out from the source. The louder the noise, the larger the radius of the circle and a better chance that someone is going to hear you.
Problem 3: I have no idea what this does, where to go, or what to do.
Playing stealth games over the years has trained me to think that a perfect run of a level usually involves no confrontation, no weapons, and one true path. Often I find myself with a slew of gadgets or abilities that go unused because nothing works better than just sneaking behind someone and taking them out. Mark of the Ninja solves this problem by giving you a ton of freedom in how you approach every situation. The level design is done in a way that each set piece can be executed in a number of ways, depending on your taste. The items range from distractions that will lure guards away, to traps that can take out and terrorize them. Everything has a use, and you’re limited to what you can take into each level. Your abilities are unlocked at a perfect pace, allowing the mastery of each of them before you dabble in a new skill. Mark of the Ninja also includes costume unlocks that you can use to compliment your playstyle, or
challenge you to play in a certain way.
Problem 4: Wasting Your Time
As I grow older, time becomes the limited resource in my life. Mark of the Ninja didn’t waste my time by making me repeat the same sequence countless times to get it right. When I did screw up, the generous checkpoints made it a seamless transition for me to try again. I didn’t have to memorize enemy patterns because there was always a tool, ability, or vent at your disposal. Rather entering a room, messing up to find out how the guards will react, and re-loading you will enter a room, analyze, and execute your plan depending on what you see. It is a small change, but an important one that Klei has made to encourage players to explore different ways to play. You WANT to do every level perfectly, and luckily for me it isn’t frustrating to accomplish.
Mark of the Ninja is swift in both the look and the design and takes nothing for granted. Klei has finally supplemented their distinct art style with gameplay to match. The way information in portrayed and the flow of the game eliminates all frustrations that one would have in a stealth game. It comes together so well that you will have an insatiable thirst to complete all the objectives in a level, and doing so is very challenging, but not frustrating. Stealth action has never been done this well, and who knew that it would take a little 2D arcade game to fix the genre?