For a relatively young company, Klei Entertainment has already developed an impressive catalogue of videogame titles that the core gaming demographic have been keen to adopt. Specialists in developing for digital distribution services, Klei Entertainment’s greatest success lies in their extraordinary ability to make every production feel complete. Their latest release, Mark of the Ninja, does exactly that: presenting you a seemingly simple experience but then throwing on top of it every conceivable mechanic of a 2D ninja adventure.
Sticking to the shadows is of course your greatest ally, and as you move through Mark of the Ninja’s respectably lengthy campaign you’ll learn the ins and outs of using both light and darkness to your advantage, improving your line of sight while limiting your enemy’s. Peak through vents and taking out lights is par for the course, and making sure that you avoid generating unnecessary noise will prevent the guards from being altered. A large part of Mark of the Ninja’s latter half depends on this as enemies are incredibly vicious: only a few hits is enough to take you out of action (though checkpoints are rather generous) and so the upper hand lies in the surprise, or not being detected at all.
In addition to the incredible feats of agility at the player’s disposal there are a number of abilities that can be learned as the player progresses. The first few players will come across include the darts which can be fired at lights to take them out – causing a distraction – and the noise maker which has a wide radius of impact to attract guards to a specific location. You have the ability to take out enemies however you please, but many have easy routes that result in bonus points, such dropping lanterns on heads or pulling them off of the edge of a balcony. Of course, you can choose simply to avoid all enemies, but is a noticeably more challenging endeavour.
When engaging in combat, a quick and briefly disorientating combo is available on the X button. However, when sneaking up upon a foe pressing the direction indicted on-screen at the same time as the X button will initiate a silent kill, allowing you to take down foes without alerting other guards.
Many of the levels have multiple paths, allowing the player the opportunity to explore and improvise, finding routes that may be more beneficial. That said, the scripted design of locations and enemy patrols cleverly forces you to play stealthily, much like how you would imagine a ninja to perform. There’s no point entering a room and attempting to take on three enemies in direct combat: even from this very first level, just one foe is enough of a challenge when going at it head-to-head.
Additionally, levels will often play host to challenge rooms which exist outside of the normal field of play. These involve using all of your abilities in a logical manner, providing rewards for their successful completion. The videogame also offers scores dependant on your kills, or lack thereof, and your ability to stay hidden. These score are then presented on the videogame’s global ranking system via leaderboards.
Mark of the Ninja features a familiar art style during in its story sequences, an adult take on Cartoon Network series such as Johnny Bravo and Samurai Jack, however it the visual design during gameplay that is most striking. Offering a fantastic amount of feedback on your abilities and how things will react – the likelihood of being detected in your current hiding spot, the transformation in the environment that will occur when destroying a fuse box and the silhouettes marking the last seen positions of both you an your enemies are all immediately obvious when focussing on an object – it’s the subtlety with which Mark of the Ninja is presented that is arguably it’s strongest aspect.
As a videogame with its roots firmly buried in 2D platform videogames, it’s quite a change of pace to what many might be expecting. Given the survival and logic puzzles of Deadlight and the skill based rhythms of NIN-2 JUMP, having a 2D platform videogame where stealth is key may not be the surprising and inventive design template it once could’ve been, but Mark of the Ninja proves that quality is more important than being first. Klei Entertainment has delivered a remarkable videogame experience, and one which will only further strengthen their position as a favourite of the core gamer.