Welp, I need to post more, since I've been playing way too many games lately not to spend more time on here. Gonna try to maintain a schedule with this, feel free to offer up suggestions for future weeks and I'll try to review stuff people are interested in.

This week, we've got Mark of the Ninja, a stealth-action game by Klei Entertainment.



Rated: 91 out of 100 based on 13 critics
Rated: 7.9 out of 10 based on 136 ratings

DEVELOPER: Klei Entertainment
GENRE(S): Stealth, Action
PLAYERS: 1
ESRB RATING: M (Mature)
RELEASE DATE: October 16, 2012
Steam Price: $14.99 (Sales as low as $7.49)

Summary

You are the silent, nameless champion of your ninja clan. You have recently accepted the "Mark", a powerful tattoo that grants you strength, agility and handful of super-human abilities. You awake to your base under attack, and set off on a journey of revenge that expands into something much bigger. In the beginning you simply stick to the shadows to avoid being seen, but soon you acquire a sword, darts, smoke bombs, poisoned daggers and even new outfits that grant you a variety of abilities from silent footsteps to sneak attacks that terrify nearby guards. This opens up a variety of different play options that lets you progress through the levels how you choose, whether you're sneaking through like a ghost or killing everyone in sight.



Gameplay

This game gives you an impressive variety of tools at your disposal which can drastically alter the way you play the game. A slew of different distraction items help you distract, blind, incapacitate or avoid enemies. Attack items can kill at a distance or dispose of bodies and help you take out any guards that get in your way. Beyond that, there are a total of 6 different costumes, each with a drastically different playstyle. The Path of Might class is heavily focused on kicks and punches, and lets you more or less throw stealth out the window if you're so inclined. The Path of Silence class makes your footsteps silent and lets you use extra distraction items, but without a sword you're no longer able to stealth-kill guards. The last class you earn, the Path of the Mark, is unlocked late in the game and allows you to outright teleport a short distance. You can avoid guards, circumvent traps and cross gaps with ease, but you lose the ability to carry distraction items. Each path has strengths and weaknesses to fit your playstyle. This means you can go through a level killing every guard you find, then later go through it again while trying not to be seen or heard by a single guard and the whole strategy of how you progress through the level is changed which gives the game real replay value.

Of course, the real draw to the game is the stealth gameplay. Flashlights, lamps and flares all cast light upon the area, and stepping into one allows you to be revealed to passing guards. Many of them can be destroyed, but you'll make enough noise to alert nearby guards to your position. This means you have to wall-run, ceiling-cling, crawl and leap to avoid being seen or heard by the patrolling troops. If you manage that, you have a number of stealth kills available to take out guards without being seen. As you could imagine, sneaking up behind them is the simplest method, and easy to do. Besides that, you can dive down from ceilings, throw them off buildings, pull through trap doors, ambush from hiding spots or even hang down from a nearby lamppost. This allows you to truly use the environment to your advantage and gives the game an extremely satisfying ninja feel.

Pros

The controls are tight. Really tight. From the wall-running to the sneak kills to the stealth mechanics, everything works really smoothly. The levels are typically side-scrolling left-to-right affairs, so it's never really confusing as to what you need to do next (signified by a big red X on your map). This allows you to focus your energy on being a ninja, which is where the game really shines. The time-stopping mechanic allows you to grapple and make throws with your knives that you'd never be able to pull off in real time, and helps give you time to line up your shots. There are a ton of ways to take out the guards that all feel incredibly satisfying, whether you're hanging from a lamppost and stringing them up, dropping a chandelier on a patrolling guardsmen, or dashing through a door at full speed and flying sidekicking them in the face. It's everything that a stealth game should be, and everything that a ninja action game should be. That they were able to pull them off together is truly impressive. The graphics are smooth, well drawn characters and beautiful detailed landscapes. Everything looks and feels like true stealth infiltration and the ambiance can make you want to hold you're breath as you're sneaking past a group of guards. The cutscenes between levels are bright and well done, and do a good job of driving the story along.



Cons

There are a few drawbacks. Unfortunately, the game can be a bit challenging, even cheap at times. Being caught quite often results in you dying and needed to start back at a recent checkpoint. Luckily these exist every screen or so. This is even more apparent on New Game + mode (hard mode) where any guard can one-hit-kill you if you're caught. Beyond regular difficulty, there are also a few spots you can be spotted without ever seeing a guard, simply by being in their line of sight as much as a full screen over. Luckily the stealth mechanics are reasonably forgiving and oftentimes you'll only catch their attention without actually having them sound an alarm. Also, while the controls are very tight, some aspects of them can be a bit wonky. Scaling buildings can take some practice, as the mechanics for going around corners are a bit rough until you get used to them. The biggest offender is trying to jump straight down off of a wall, as the wall-climbing mechanics often kick in and stick you back on the wall you just tried to jump off of. Similarly the assassinations take some getting used to, as you need to click and drag the mouse in the specified direction which is seemingly random. This turns even relatively simple kills into quick-time events. Naturally this can be circumvented in a few ways, either by playing the Hunter class, which always instantly succeeds on stealth kills, the Silence class, which focuses on avoiding fights instead of killing guards, or the might class, which uses hand to hand combat in place of stealth.

All-in-all, most of these are quite easy to get used to and are hardly noticeable once you get going. I wouldn't argue that any of them are gamebreaking or even significantly frustrating, and shouldn't really get in the way of your gaming.

Verdict

I would absolutely recommend this game. If you're a fan of the stealth assassination games (Read: Assassin's Creed series) then this is a natural choice to pick up. Similarly, if you're familiar with other fast-paced side-scrollers the wall jumping and chandelier grappling should come as second nature. It's challenging while not tedious, stealthy but not slow, and a blast to play. Pick it up.