When you hear the word ninja in a game, what do you think? Generally they’re enemies that excel in combat, but make no real attempts to be stealthy assassins, often because pure stealth games aren’t that common anymore. Games like Splinter Cell went more “mainstream” and catered to the shooter market with its latest game, and while games like Hitman: Absolution and Assassin’s Creed III have a focus on stealth, they’re action games first. What makes Mark of the Ninja so great is it places stealth in the forefront, and does it so amazingly well.
Mark of the Ninja takes obvious inspiration from the old Ninja Gaiden games, but makes players feel like a predatory assassin, stalking their prey from the shadows and quickly striking before disappearing. The main character is given a mystical tattoo (completely different from the one in Far Cry 3!) that enhances his abilities, but comes with the caveat that it will ultimately drive him crazy and kill him. Bummer, man.
All this is wrapped in a very fetching cel-shaded art style that makes the game look like a violent cartoon. The game’s story and world are mostly secondary, though it does throw in some interesting twists near the end. Gameplay is king, however, and Mark of the Ninja has incredibly tight controls, and climbing along walls, roofs and in air ducts feels great. You gain a variety of tools to help you, but most often you’ll rely on your trusty grappling hook, throwing darts, and sword to make stealthy kills. Ninja weren’t meant to fight, and attempting to play this game like an action game will almost certainly end up in death.
Some of our favorite moments from games like Batman: Arkham City and Splinter Cell Conviction came from the times when we’d be able to survey enemies and pick them off in our own ways. While Mark of the Ninja is definitely a linear game, there is freedom in the way enemies are dispatched. Each room is almost like a puzzle, with various traps to be avoided and switches to be triggered, but once you make your way through unseen, you feel like you’re one with the shadows. Few games can match the sense of sneakiness and feeling like a true ninja badass quite as well.
Indie and downloadable games are becoming increasingly common and increasingly complex, and Mark of the Ninja may not have the same incredible appeal as The Walking Dead or Journey, but it should stand as an incredible homage to 2D action games and how the incredible predatory feelings of Batman or Assassin’s Creed can be perfectly used to base a game around. With the game out on Steam and Xbox Live, there’s almost no reason you can’t get it.