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Review

Mark of the Ninja Review

  • Game release: September 7, 2012
  • Reviewed:
  • X360

Rewarding gameplay and clever stealth mechanics make Mark of the Ninja an experience to remember.

The stealth genre has brooded in the shadows for many years, coming out only for a handful of memorable games before slinking back into the darkness. It's out again with Mark of the Ninja, but Klei Entertainment's new creation abandons the 3D conventions of most stealth games for a simpler 2D platforming framework that takes the genre in an exciting new direction. It's a ninja game that remembers that ninjas are supposed to be invisible masters of the shadows, not sword-swinging brawlers like their samurai cousins, and its attention to stealth design pervades every moment of gameplay. Fluid controls make combat and movement flow as smoothly as a well-crafted haiku, and brutal assassinations add gravity to the comic-styled visuals. Rich and lengthy levels demand full use of the powers at your disposal, and a somber and minimalistic musical score adds tension to every step.

The hero is the Kratos of ninjas, a scowling, silent type wrapped with red tattoos that give him greater powers than his shadowy brethren. There's a catch, of course: the marks may eventually drive him insane. He's occasionally accompanied by a female accomplice who drops hints and tutorial advice as the two prowl through fanciful Asian urbanscapes and Eastern European castles on the heels of a bad guy in a business suit with a Russian accent. The story is strangely compelling despite its lightweight exposition, told as it is through competently voiced animated cutscenes that look like they were pulled from lost episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, although it ultimately serves little more purpose than providing context for your actions. The rest of the story reveals itself through tidbits dropped by your female accomplice (who's a bit on the cynical side), and still other narrative touches are found in the scrolls hidden in the nooks and crannies of each level, but nothing defines the experience so much as the ninja's unrelenting pursuit of justice in the game itself.

Mark of the Ninja's controls are unfailingly responsive, and few platformers have handled stealth mechanics with such facility. In its best moments, it's a work of kinetic poetry, with the ninja climbing walls, flying between platforms with grappling hooks, and sneaking into vents only milliseconds before a deadly laser sweeps around or before he's revealed by the flashlights of a patrolling guard. Evasion is key, as highlighted by the scorecard at the end of each round that awards points for remaining undetected and keeping all the guards alive.

Drag bodies out of the way if you wish to avoid alerting nearby guards.

Hiding places abound, such as doorways and potted plants that the ninja can flit between with a tap of the B button, which helps if you've accidentally triggered an alarm and need to hide while the alert dies down. You also find plenty of uses for unlockable tools such as smoke bombs that disrupt trigger beams and noisemakers that distract guards, although you're limited to using only two of these "ninja tools" besides the default (and limitless) wooden darts. If you want to change your loadout, you have to stumble across one of the rare kiosks or wait until the end of the level to switch them out or spend points on new tools.

Mark of the Ninja best quality is that it almost always gives you a choice between murder and avoidance, such as when it seems like the only way around a wall of lasers is to kill a patrolling guard and drag his body under them to deactivate the sensors. Look long enough, though, and you sometimes find a ventilation shaft hidden behind a movable crate that lets you bypass the obstacle altogether. Often, though, moving in for the kill is quicker; done right, stealth assassinating the majority of guards is a rewarding affair of sneaking up on them, clicking X, and following a directional prompt based on your position.

For added safety, you can drag and stash the guards' bodies in the game's many doorways and ventilation systems before another guard finds them and switches on the alarm. Or you can nab bonus points for using an unlockable skill that leaves them hanging from the ceiling and frightening their friends (thus allowing you to rush in and finish them off). But when you botch a job, it shows, and the clean kills of a stealth assassination give way to embarrassingly rough kills that leave the target kicking, gurgling, and attracting the attention of other guards. Mark of the Ninja reminds us that ninjas should take no glory in messy kills.

You can knock out standard lights with darts--but not these sturdy searchlights.

It's moments like this when the beautiful simplicity of Mark of the Ninja's stealth design starts to show. As you finish up your shoddy execution (dubbed a "peasant's death" by the announcement that floats up afterward), you see pulsing yellow circles in the distance that indicate the location of guards who have heard the noise, so you know where not to go when making your escape. Such visual cues are tremendously useful, and the game makes excellent use of them. Break into a sprint by pressing the right trigger, and a gigantic blue circle pulses around the ninja. Aim a noisemaker with the left trigger in the direction of a guard, and you'll know he heard it fall if the pulsing circle sweeps over him. Circles even indicate the footsteps of the guards, and let you know when the guard has walked away. These cues are especially useful when avoiding the dogs that make their appearance far along the journey, making the struggle to keep them from sniffing you a bit more bearable.

There's not much variety to enemies beyond shields, dogs, and strongmen to complement the army of rank-and-file guards, but there seldom seems to be a need since the level design plays such a prominent role. Levels are fairly linear, although there are plenty of hidden passages with upgrades and artifacts to discover if you want to venture off the beaten path. There are also dozens of satisfying puzzles and deftly hidden challenge rooms that test your skill with some of the game's stealth mechanics.

Challenge rooms help hone your puzzle-solving skills.

Appropriately, Mark of the Ninja is a dark and shadowy experience, and many of the later hours take place in almost total darkness, which makes grappling between platforms that could crumble at any second a challenge. By this time, though, you'll have the far sight ability, which reveals your surroundings as though seen through an X-ray, although you can use it only when you're standing still. This restriction is a nice touch that sidesteps the oft-ridiculed scenario of people playing Batman: Arkham Asylum with detective vision on at all times, but far sight occasionally disrupts the otherwise effortlessly fluid gameplay when a level forces you to use it every few seconds.

The one feature that would have made Mark of the Ninja more satisfying is cooperative mode. It hints at one with the story's inclusion of the female ninja, but in the end, the only nod toward multiplayer competition is the 13 leaderboards that showcase your performance on each level and in the story as a whole. There are still plenty of objectives, however, such as seals that award points based on level-specific challenges to heighten the stakes. Mark of the Ninja is that rare game that gets all the hallmarks of a platformer right while distinguishing itself as a unique and fulfilling adventure. With its tense pacing, its shadowy ambiance, and the endlessly satisfying act of slipping past an entire squad of guards, Mark of the Ninja is an excellent adventure that will leave its mark on you for months to come.

The Good
Excellent controls and a wide range of abilities
Well-designed levels with increasing difficulty
Hidden artifacts and challenge rooms encourage replay
Memorable visuals and story-based cinematics
The Bad
Far sight ability disrupts the momentum
8.5
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Leif Johnson (pronounced "Layf") is a freelance writer whose works have appeared on GameSpot, IGN, PC Gamer, Official Xb

Discussion

3 comments
ahpuck
ahpuck

Just finished this game today. It's a perfect 9.

wavelength121
wavelength121

not a fan of the canned Penny Arcade art style, otherwise cool

koelkastmagneet
koelkastmagneet

600 points atm people, 1 day sale. Be quick or be...uhm yea too late... I guess

yonyz
yonyz

Definitely a memorable experience, and I haven't finished it yet (one level to go I think).

 

Voice_of_Wisdom
Voice_of_Wisdom

PC version pleeeeeeeeeeeease.................................................

infinXitive
infinXitive

It appears the paragraph breaks are not preserved, so this has become a huge block of text. Drat. Having played much of the way through this game, I'd like to add the observation that the production value is right off the chart. Lightning strobes everything into stark, flickering visibility. Rain drops splash wetly, footsteps clang jarringly from within air ducts. The visual cues are fun to read and the overall presentation of an environment the hero can only partially perceive is just brilliant. When a guard is out of our ninja's sight, for example, we get a visual representation of what the ninja hears in the form of noise circles and a ghostly image of where the ninja supposes the guard must be, what he last saw in the form of a hazy frozen sprite, and related visual clues like the beam of a flashlight shining through a crack in the vent. This game is a joy to play, although I have found the controls a bit tricky at times. Chalk it up to my inexperience playing side scrolling games with a thumb stick if you like, but I find my ninja frequently responds to an input I didn't mean to enter. I really wish this were a PS3 game that used the D-pad for character movement. This is the type of game I wish Other M had been - an ultra refined side scrolling platformer built upon decades of experience with such games, not a credible attempt to create a new style of gameplay. I cannot describe the delight it would bring me to hear that these masters were to produce the next Metroid game. But I digest. From the perspective of one who has made it a lifelong point to produce and value great writing, I will say this review was clearly written, totally fair to the game, and unlikely to sail over the head of anyone who could reasonably be expected to read it. I've come to GameSpot first for years because I can count on sophisticated, informed reactions that are presented with a lot more skill than most other web writing. I do not think Mr Johnson was overly florid or oven noticeably less direct than what I've come to expect from GameSpot. Like every game I love, I wish this one were longer, but the price was fair, especially when you factor how carefully polished the entire game is. I hope for more levels in the form of DLC. I would smugly pay $1 per additional level. Matt Minneapolis

jchristenberry
jchristenberry

Loving this game, though I am still trying to figure out if its better to sneak past everyone or kill everyone... both seem to reward you.

tgwolf
tgwolf

Did this game come in a full-fledged, non-niche version such as I could get into?

HKILLER88888
HKILLER88888

so this is Shank the ninja Style or maybe it's closer to Shinobi games?(i mean old shinobi games)also does this come out on PC?

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

Just want to say one thing. The review cites the 'farsight' ability as a problem. I've finished the game and I activated it twice. Once to see how it looked and once for a puzzle. You don't need it at all and it disrupts nothing. If you couldn't see without it; your gamma setting was too low.

Apathetic_Prick
Apathetic_Prick

Regardless of whether this game is any good, the review stinks.  The only reason why reviews are written in such a wordy manner is to hide something; Rolling Stone does it all the time to either cover up the fact that they think a good album is bad or a bad album is good. 

 

I personally can't trust a review with such pretensious language.  We need to be told in plain language, not prose and flowery comparison.

 

That said, with what my simple mind could gather, the game sounds quite interesting.

Vodoo
Vodoo

This is where the 360's exclusives shine, in Xbox Live Arcade. Most of the exclusive arcade games that are any good are so good, in fact,  that they easily compete with full retail games. I only found out about this game when I saw it advertised on the 360's dashboard. A game this awesome should definitely not slip under the radar. Imo, this game should've been part of the "Summer of Arcade" promotion instead of Wreckateer or Tony Hawk. This is easily in the top 5 all-time greatest XBLA games.

ShadowOfKratos
ShadowOfKratos

Outstanding games like these shouldn't be exclusive.

JGD85
JGD85

Damn it feels good to be a 360 player.

interrasteral7
interrasteral7

In my opinion, thank you Klei Entertainment for finish developing Mark of the Ninja, because Shank and Shank 2 were disappointments.

Deadly_Nemesis
Deadly_Nemesis

I am loving the hell out of this game but...this thing is mother Fing short!

nate1222
nate1222

I hope MotN comes to PC. Steam or GOG, please.

M0hadese
M0hadese

i love all klei entertainment product , thx a lot but release for pc plz !

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

I would definitely play this, now if I can just get my 360 away from my dad :P

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

Infinitly better than the rubbish they passed for 'arcade summer' this year.

JustArtificial
JustArtificial

It's a great game, but a 1200 MS point ask is WAY too big. If this were out 2-3 years ago, this would be a steal. Now, I expect something much bigger and more visually pleasing.

TheMisterCheif
TheMisterCheif

Boom another great indie game on xbla, probably get this on steam but not sure i could not be "part of the conversation"  with this game, also as a MEGA FAnboy go play playstation home 

Grovilis
Grovilis

Oh, wow. The far sight ability sounds horrid. Hopefully it's optional. 

pezzott1
pezzott1

Good news is that they are thinking about a pc version. Cant wait!

edjos
edjos

tem um jeito.vc tem q fazer um gamertag com endereço nos states.

kkxtrouble
kkxtrouble

Any chance this may come to the PC? I do have an Xbox but it's connected to the brazilian Xbox live, so I don't get most of the current arcade releases there. Even worse with Psn by the way, which is almost empty.

y3ivan
y3ivan

 @HKILLER88888 a better example would be tengu. The stealth mechanics is quite similiar with TC splinter cell mobile/portable version, using shadow and objects as cover.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

 @Apathetic_Prick The language of this review is perfectly clear. Any good critic understands that the tone of your language--your choice of words, the structure, the flow--communicates as much as the information within, whether consciously or subconsciously. When writing about a game with a fluid feel, I try to use fluid prose that matches the tone of the game; when writing about a game that has a punchier tone, I try to use shorter, harsher words. 

 

We trust our audience, their comprehension levels, and their standards for written language, and believe that our readers deserve more than just a bunch of dry information about a game. We don't want to sacrifice clarity for the sake of language, of course, but there isn't a word or phrase in this review that doesn't communicate something about the author's feelings about the game. 

 

I'd be interested in hearing which sentences or paragraphs were so opaque that you felt like the review was trying to "cover something up."

 

 

Pyronius
Pyronius

 @Apathetic_Prick As a writer, the balance between flowery prose and simplified language can be a hard one to find. The more refined the words you use, the more precise your definition is, and therefore you are better understood by those with the propensity to comprehend. As you pointed out though, you may also potentially ostracize part of your audience, by not appealing to the common denominator.

 

I once saw a guy at a poetry reading who pointed out that the best poetry was that which everyone could understand, because that meant that you were getting your point across. He said it so disdainfully though, inferring that he thought little of 'flowery prose'.

 

So I guess it's possible to be a pretentious d$#k no matter what style of language you use.

y3ivan
y3ivan

 @Vodoo this year SOA is crap, with a few mediocre games.

Vodoo
Vodoo

 @JustArtificial If you think $15 is "WAY" to much for this game then you're just "WAY" to damn cheap! This game is easily in the TOP 5 best XBLA games of all time. I think you're just a PS fanboy that is looking any any little thing to knock this game because you can't play it.

rann89
rann89

 @JustArtificial I disagree. Considering this adds just as much play-time as games seeling for $60, I'd consider the price more on the awesome side. You simply don't like the game because it's 2D and you want Metal Gear Solid for $10.

Slagar
Slagar

 @JustArtificial And healthcare, education, and dental, should all be free too, right? Seriously, in the real world, there is no such thing as a free lunch. This looks like solid entertainment for the price.

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

 @JustArtificial 5-10 hours the first time through. New game Plus. Different outfits to allow for different play styles and plenty of gadgets to try out. Score incentives for no-kill runs. Smooth controls and nice visuals. And it's still too expensive at a measly $15? C'mon... There were games like Deadlight that were far shorter with almost zero replay value for the same price. This one's a steal for any stealth fan.

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

 @Grovilis Finished the game without needing it. Reviewer had the brighness too low, simple as that.

danilo72
danilo72

 @kkxtrouble I downloaded the demo on my xbox and live in Brazil. My xbox live account is brazilian too.

sayoose
sayoose

 @kkxtrouble

 Do they steal American's organs in Brazil? Is it safe to visit?

charlesdao
charlesdao

 @kkxtrouble i am a brazilian too, i have like 3 psn accounts but i dont know about live...

HKILLER88888
HKILLER88888

 @y3ivan well does it have a PC version?if not even if its the best game of world i won't care about it!

Steba93
Steba93

 @Carpetfluff  @JustArtificial Agree, $15 seems really fair, maybe even a steal at that price and that amount of stuff in it. And besides, we've got to support indie devs even if it was a bit too pricey, but if the content is great, I'll be glad to give my money and support them so that they could bring us more quality games in the future.

Vodoo
Vodoo

 @y3ivan  @kkxtrouble Yes but all the games are not. The games available differ by what region you're in, which is why we never see japanese games on there.

kkxtrouble
kkxtrouble

 @sayoose We'll steal all your organs buddy. If you got any questions about Brazil you should ask Chael Sonnen ( pre Anderson match) he knows all about the country.

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

@bat725 Do your plants talk to you a lot about games?

nate1222
nate1222

 @Steba93  @Carpetfluff  @JustArtificial

 Agreed. I lucked out and got Torchlight for PC off of GOG for only $7.50 (and DRM-free). But I would've gladly dropped the full $15 for it.

 

I also snagged Bastion off of Gamersgate (again, DRM-free) for $15. Every bit worth it.

y3ivan
y3ivan

 @Vodoo  @kkxtrouble as far as i know, XBLA is totally region free. A few instances that games that are available for Localized Japan gamers, that doesnot stop you from creating a Japanese account.

 

Even steam has a few IP locked games.

Mark of the Ninja More Info

  • Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • Unix/Linux
    • Xbox 360
    Mark of the Ninja is a side-scrolling stealth action game from Klei Entertainment that combines fluid 2D animation with intense stealth gameplay.
    8.4
    Average User RatingOut of 520 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Mark of the Ninja
    Developed by:
    Klei Entertainment
    Published by:
    Microsoft Game Studios
    Genres:
    2D, Action, Platformer
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence