Review: Mark of the Ninja

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I am not one for stealth games. They annoy me, mostly because I suck at playing them well. Splinter Cell gave me such immense adrenalin shocks that I would almost die of a heart attack every time someone moved around. What bothered me most, in hindsight, was the trial and error way of playing these games. You’d go somewhere and you wouldn’t know what to expect, so there was a lot of time spent looking around corners in hope of not being spotted by an enemy standing behind you.

Mark of the Ninja put the fun back into stealth games for me. This 2D, stealth, hack-n-slash made me think about my actions, but gave me the ability to work with failure. If I messed up, I could run away into hiding easily, thanks to the really well designed 2D levels. Or I could beat the shit out of one dude and hope no one else would find me. I died often enough, but always due to my own faults and screw-ups, not because the game was badly designed.

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The game was released in the fall of 2012, developed my Klei Entertainment and published by Microsoft Studios. Previously the fine folks at Klei made a name for themselves with Shank and Shank 2, at least for me. They also made the N+ port for XBOX Live. N+ was a great game if you remember that. I really liked Shank, even though the boss fights were brutal and evil. Shank 2 was more of the same, but refined and arguably better. It didn’t leave as much of an impression on me though. Now we have Mark of the Ninja and they prove successfully that they know what they are doing.

Here is how it works; you have pretty big structures to traverse. You can climb walls and all that jazz really easily and it flows so very nicely. Everything is very fluent. While going through tombs, towers, castles, temples and roofs you can of course not always see everything. There is a field of view and the things you have seen that are now, for whatever reason not in that field, will be clouded, kind of like a fog of war. They will still be visible enough for you to plan ahead. You can always look around corners without being afraid of being seen though. Just look out for them light beams. If you managed to traverse through my complicated description of this rather minor detail you’ll find yourself above, behind or beneath an enemy. There are no non-lethal take downs. Take-downs happen in the same fluent way that we have gotten used to through Shank. The guys and girls at Klei really are masters in animating their games. I’ll talk about graphics later. So take-downs, there are a number of different ones, enough for you not to be bored when seeing them over and over. If you want to play the game that way, you can go without a single kill and will be rewarded for it. It is all possible. There are rewards for going completely undetected as well.

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Me? I tried to sneak around, killed when necessary and got the hell out of there as soon as I was detected. It worked out quite well, none of the puzzles are too complicated for my sorry brain and are generally a pleasure to complete. The payoff will be worth it. Yes, there were some frustrating moments, the equivalent to boss-fights that made me raise my voice, but even then, I made it out after the third or fourth try. Considering how Shanks bosses took me up to ten to beat Klei have come a long way in balancing enemies, bosses and the environment against the growing skill of the player.

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The game looks astonishing. It is as beautiful as a game that is mostly black can be. And I mean that in a good way. When there is color it looks great, when the rain and thunder roll across the roofs and your back everything will be illuminated and it will look great. It is a greatly crafted and fantastic game to behold.

My only complaint would be about the story. There is no real motivation, no real bonding with characters involved. It sucks because everything else in the game is so much fun it bums me out that the story is on the back burner. Yes, it gives everything a reason for happening and yes, it is somewhat conclusive and open for a second installment. But that is it. Don’t go into this game expecting the best story ever; expect amazing gameplay and a story that holds it together with the help of some gaffer tape. Mark of the Ninja will entertain you for about 15 hours, which is definitely more than you could hope for and not enough if you like the game. But it is the right amount.

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I waited for a Steam sale to get this game. But after playing it I’d tell you to go right now and get it. It ain’t expensive compared to games that offer way less entertainment. Or you wait until the next sale, Easter will be your friend.

I loved playing this game. It was great fun and I want more. The upcoming Special Edition DLC will make me one happy Ninja. Now all that is left to say is this:

Mark of the Ninja was a GREAT ADVENTURE, so now you may STFUAPMOTN!

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