Klei Entertainment, the same company that created Shank and Eets has come up with another challenging game within the traditional 2D format. One of Mark of the Ninja's first appearances was in the form of a text based adventure to introduce the basic premise of the game. It was released online as a teaser introduction to the game. As a Ninja, what path would you take? Would you take risks or stay to the shadows and be the silent assassin?
With Mark of the Ninja, players can finally make that choice at every step of the game. When I played it on the show floor I was immediately thrown into the game with an introduction to the stealth aspects by being shown how to hide in the shadows. After avoiding a few guards and retrieving my main weapon, the game got down to business.
The Ninja Clan that your main character belongs to doesn't like drawing their weapons without a guaranteed kill, so stealth is incredibly important in the game. Noises and dead bodies can attract the attention of the guards and once the guards know where you are, you must hide until they lose interest. Little yellow circles appear to let you know the last area that they're paying attention to and a timer counts down to when they'll stop paying attention. Once they do, you have to move in for the kill.
What's so awesome about this game is that just like Shank and Shank 2, the death animations are so much gruesome fun. The Ninja can perform perfectly silent brutal kills which limit the possibility of being detected or not so perfect kills with the lovely lyrical sound of death gurgling in your enemy's throat. However, because of needing a guaranteed kill, if you approach an enemy without stealth on your side you'll be in for a nasty fist fight. No weapons, just punches and kicks until the enemy is knocked down. Once you have them down, you may draw your sword and finish them, but it'll be a rough fight until then or until you escape.
Klei did a good job of supporting the Ninja in his quest by creating an environment that he is able to maneuver in very fluidly. The Ninja is able to stick to not only the shadows, but bushes, walls, ventilation tunnels and lamp posts. You can destroy light sources to create shadows, throw daggers at bells and gongs to distract your enemies and slink around the stage in an effort to find the best opportunity to kill your enemies. The Ninja is even able to hide dead bodies in order to prevent other guards from knowing that he's been in an area.
The graphics have a neat contrast to them, with the shadows being dark and oppressive and the lighted areas taking on a sinister twist, what with the Ninja's propensity for the dark. While playing there were a few issues with the graphics that the developers acknowledged; for instance, a particular kind of light source is non-destroyable. It wasn't immediately evident in game, so I was told that they would try to figure out a way to make that fact more noticeable to the player. Also, one section I played had a very difficult stealth section that seemed to rely on several bushes for cover. Because of the difficulty I and others had in that section, the developers thought it might be prudent to move some of the bushes around.
It will be interesting to see what sort of changes happen in the game between now and launch to make it more accessible and to eliminate some of the glitches. But even with a few minor bugs here and there, Mark of the Ninja is a very enjoyable experience and a title that I'm looking forward to being released on Xbox Live Arcade.