Mark of the Ninja is a new XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) game by Klei Entertainment. Klei brought back the similar artistic style, and gameplay that they are known for in games like Shank, but they added stealth into the mix. Instead of Shank’s run and gun gameplay, you have to think more, and puzzle your way out of a situation.
Mark of the Ninja’s story is a little confusing, and unfortunately I think it was presented that way on purpose. Your clan gets attacked by a PMC (private military company) for an unknown reason. You decide to become the hero of the clan and get revenge by taking on these mystical tattoo’s which give you special abilities. Unfortunately, these same tattoos will drive you to madness. Once you accomplish the mission you will have to kill yourself before you go completely insane.
You skulk through this game hiding in shadows, vents, and plants to remain unseen until you get a chance to stealth kill your enemy. Stealth kills are very gory. Shank was bloody, but this game goes above and beyond with how graphic the kills are. My favorite involves the enemy standing on the roof, and me hanging on the wall just below the roof. You reach up to grab and stab them and toss them several floors below.
Aside from just standard stealth kills you also have equipment to create distractions, set traps, or scare the guards. Some of your equipment includes darts, caltrops, and poisonous bugs. As you play through the game and complete challenges, you are given points to unlock more equipment and killing techniques.
The challenges make the game even more entertaining than it already is. Every chapter has 3 challenges. An example of a challenge is getting through a certain section without getting detected. If an enemy detects you in that section of the chapter then you fail the challenge, but if you die and start again from a checkpoint, you can attempt the challenge again. It adds a level of fun, depth, and anger upon failing that makes the game worth the price.
If you don’t really care about the challenges and want to get through a chapter you can get through them in about 30 minutes. There are 12 levels so the game will take about 6 hours on the first play through. If you attempt to do as many challenges as possible the game will probably take you twice as long. Once you beat the game you have a chance to play through the New Game Plus mode which is the same game but harder, adding in even more bang for your buck.
While the game is very good, it does have a few problems. It generally controls well, however many times when I attempt to do a normal kill there seems to be a problem. If you get detected and have to kill someone, you attack them with hand to hand combat until you have them on the ground, at which point you should be able to stab them. Several times I’ve encountered problems with having to stand in an exact spot, once you have them on the ground, in order to pull off the kill. It gives you very little space to get this right, where the rest of the game seems a lot more forgiving.
Another problem revolves around the story. I felt like an attack dog that was let off the leash. I knew I had to kill people but I never felt like I had a good understanding of why. I had a 9-year-old watch me play for a bit, and she asked me why I was killing everyone. I honestly didn’t have a good answer for her. When you finally get to the end of the game it has a great twist that M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of. Unfortunately I don’t really think they fully earned the twist they put in. There is a lead up just before the end that is visually amazing, and a great way to tell the story, but once you perform a final action the game just ends leaving me feel empty.
This game is fantastic and well worth the $15 price tag. As with all XBLA games you can download the demo for free. The demo plays through the entire first mission, so it’s pretty lengthy. Chances are, if you give it a chance, you’ll be hooked and ready to give them your money before the demo is over.