At first, Mark of the Ninja feels a little boring. The game moves slowly, it’s viciously difficult if you try to rip through enemies and its settings are dark and drab. Perhaps, that feeling remains for the first two or three levels.
Then it clicks. This is a stealth game with puzzle elements. That might not work well for box quotes and arcade descriptions, but Mark of the Ninja is a game built around thinking, planning and surveying.
You’ll face off against four basic enemies within this game. The first two are obvious: living baddies and red lasers (or miniguns operated by red lasers). The second two? Light and sound. When you’re lit up, enemies can see you. When you run, smash, drop, or hit something, it creates a circle of sound. Anything within that circle will be alerted to your presence.
That means you need to watch what you do and how you do it in order to succeed. It’s a process, for sure.
Once you recognize that the best way to play this game is to be as methodical as possible, the experience opens up in a huge, huge way. You’ll be given a level with a singular objective (stealing something from an enemy, for example). How you arrive at that objective is almost entirely up to you.
The 2D landscape provides you with a ton of options, too. Do you sneak below the enemies and earn a bonus for flying through undetected? Or, do you find ways to kill each and every bad guy between the starting block and the final area? It’s up to you, and the levels support a whole slew of plans.
Perhaps one of the best features of Mark of the Ninja is how entirely open it feels. This is a 2D game with very specific corridors and enemy placements. Those three things combine to suggest that this narrative will be tight and very scripted. Despite that, the game feels completely up in the air. As you’re playing, you never really feel like there is a “right” or “wrong” way to tackle any single obstacle.
There’s your way, and it’s the only way that matters.
You will get a chance to purchase equipment through an upgrade system, but it definitely feels a little lackluster when compared to the core design of the levels and enemies within them. The tools are fun in action, but the joy of this game is in successfully navigating an area unscathed or undetected.
The best compliment I can possibly pay Klei (the studio behind the effort) and Mark of the Ninja is this: I really don’t like stealth games. I don’t like being methodical. I don’t like immense amounts of pressure. I don’t like intense difficulty.
I really liked this game. A lot.
We received a review code for Mark of the Ninja. We completed the game before starting this review.