After 3 seconds, I decided to stop being a little bitch and get it to see what it was about. I played the ENTIRE game in two days NON-STOP. The tripped-out part was how it was merely the first play-through.
The story revolves around a ninja clan on the precipice of extinction as a casualty of changing times. But as you’d expect, time isn’t the primary cause, it’s a rival gang of non-ninja thugs out for blood. You start the first stage in the midst of an enemy attack forcing you to fight or sneak your way out. Soon after it’s revealed you dawn a supernatural tattoo (Mark of the Ninja) in order to obtain magic powers to do incredibly hard missions normal people (or ninjas) can’t. Unfortunately, after the set of missions is over, the barer of the mark has to kill his or herself. Apparently, the mark is drives people to madness from psychoactive ink. Getting revenge for the clan is THAT important. But like all stories of revenge, the initial revenge usually ends up being the least of the protagonists problems. Of course to solve these problems depends on how you want to play: lethal or stealthy. And just a side-note, I HATE pure stealth. I like killing without being noticed…but I don’t like to just let people get away, but in this game, I actually like it!
If any of you’ve played Dishonored, the smash-hit stealth game from the hit-or-miss Betheseda, think of this as a ninja-oriented 2D counterpart. In short, you feel like a badass no matter what you do. And also feel vulnerable when you get caught. Mind you, Mark of the Ninja doesn’t punish you point-wise for killing every soul you see. Or perhaps you like telling yourself, “I could have killed you…but I’m being nice today.” Like in Dishonored, you can kill foes from virtually any angle. Initially I thought killing creativity would be boring and get old fast being, but new moves and items are introduced at just the right time. You like hanging from lamp-posts like a monkey? There are a couple ways to kill people just for you. Or maybe you’re kind of evil (game wise) like me & like to terrify enemies? To do so, you can drop bodies of slain foes on on unsuspecting enemies or throw bodies at them and watch the fireworks. When most enemies get terrified, they attack almost anything they see — including teammates. It’s incredibly satisfying to do something so simple & get rewarded for it…but just make sure to get out the way! Instead of ‘Bonecharms,’ or accessories, you’re able to differentiate playstyle with outfits. There’s always an outfit to fit any given playstyle. Since I like to terrorize people, I use the Nightmare outfit that scares enemies when they see me kill someone in the open or see a body left by me, when normally a dead body would put them on watch or sound an alarm.
The currency to get these outfits depends on how well you do on a given stage. That brings me to my next point: seals. Think of seals like specific achievements per level and when you complete them, you get extra currency to buy stuff. Instead of just playing the game, you’re sincerely PLAYING the game. It’s a great little wrinkle to put into the game.
You WILL die a couple times at least playing this game, but usually it’s not because of something unfair, but moreso you pushing the limits of gameplay or biting off more than you can chew. There were a couple times when I tried to kill an enemy unkillable by normal means and died, and didn’t really like how one one type isn’t marked so you can tell, but it’s not too hard to catch on.
I touched on MotN being a 2D cousin of Dishonored earlier and the more I play this, the more I know why. later in the game you even get a “blink” ability. Even more cool, you can use a quickwheel to orchestrate kills while time stops. Perfect for games of timing when realtime isn’t always appropriate, but bringing up a menu would kill the experience. Speaking of menus, to be a smart ninja will be glancing at their maps from time to time. Even though this is a 2D world, don’t be mistaken, it’s awfully big and you’ll be wanting to explore everything to get bonus points. Actually, if you do a fair amount of exploring, you’ll run into little challenge areas where a bite-size puzzle resides. So be sure to check out branching paths.
In order to pull off kills and such in the first place you have to know what to look for, and let me tell you, this game is breath-taking in more ways than one. Like a cross between Samurai Jack & Batman Beyond, the art is hand-drawn with parallax backgrounds Super Mario would ditch Princess Peach for. To “see,” little (or big) rippling circles appear on and sometimes off screen to symbolize the area of an occurring noise. In some instances, a yellow circle will appear by you if guards wise up to your shenanigans. Blue circles are just general noise, whereas small white circles represent footsteps. Again, this game is beautiful. If you’ve played Blazblue or another game with hand-drawn sprites, you’ll really appreciate this work of art in motion.
Alas, motion is nothing without decent controls. The sense of movement is spot-on and while you feel light, the presence of gravity is fairly well defined; if there’s a jump in front of you, you’ll most likely know whether you can make it or not. Sometimes I feel like this game should be called “Mark of the Spider,” because this ninja is STICKY. He sticks to nearly anything he jumps on and takes some getting used to at first, but near the middle you’ll be one with the controls. Contextually, this game does a very good job at noticing when you’re close enough to an enemy to activate a kill sequence or a vase in order to hide. The only real issue I have is when a body and hiding place are right next to each other. Sometimes when another baddie’s coming, the last thing you want to do is fumble with hiding when you’re trying to pull a body out of sight. The problem isn’t bad enough to be gamebreaking or even annoying, but something to keep in mind. Closing doors and dropping bodies can occasionally fumble too, but I can’t think of any real time it pissed me off especially since the checkpoints you can restart at are practically mind-reading.
As a port from Xbox Live, this game performs wonderfully with a 360 controller. If you have a wired 360 controller, you should be fine, but if you have a wireless one, get a wireless adapter online for $20. You’ll be glad you did. In my honest opinion, platformers and beat-em-ups should only be played with a controller, while any FPS/adventure games should be played with a keyboard and mouse…this is no exception. Though I’m not a fan of keyboard use for this Opus, they were well thought out.
In essence, if I could only say one more thing about the game, it’d be simple: BUY IT. NOW. PERIOD. It should range from $11-$15, and possibly cheaper on sale. If you have any Steam friends and they owe you, I’d probably call in a solid on Mark of the Ninja. I love this game so much, I want a second one. I give this a 9/10. If I left any powers or cool features out, it’s only because I want you yourself to discover them and see how cool this game is, so do me a favor and play it!