Inflicting some ninjuries
Mark of the Ninja is another in the long line of successful and critically acclaimed indie releases of 2012. A 2D Stealth-em-up you are tasked with completing objectives in vaguely linear two-dimensional worlds without being seen. Over the last few years there’s been a little bit of a resurgence in 2D platforming and this is clear evidence that not every platformer is the same.
The game is absolutely gorgeous, it’s a stunning title with a strong art style and perfectly realised animations and backgrounds. While you’re sneaking around in the shadows hidden characters become hand-drawn white outlines, there are visual cues for every sound, every line of sight, every bonus. When the game really shines is in the rare chances you get to let loose and sprint from rooftop to rooftop, using your grappling hook to recover from any slight falls and the world whizzes past in glorious 60fps.
With that visual excellence comes a fair bit of gore. Sneak up behind an enemy and press ‘X’ and you’ll find yourself jabbing your sword through every orifice imaginable, and possibly creating a few new ones along the way. There’s a certain glamourisation of violence here that might not be best suited for any kiddies in your household, and seems a tiny bit out of place with the serene and picturesque environments. The brutality is a misstep and something more graceful might have sufficed.
It isn’t a hard game, I clocked it on normal at around six hours and that was trying to get a few stealth bonuses. After each level you get a score which can be compared on leaderboards, and you get bonuses for not being seen or not even killing anyone. This adds a decent level of difficulty for those who crave a challenge, plus there is a new game+ mode where the visual cues for sounds are gone, but you get to play through with all your gadgets from the start.
The gadgets are fantastic, with spike mines and smoke bombs providing the standard ninja fare, but then a hallucinogenic dart that confuses enemies into killing each other and a magical item that allows you to teleport short distances changes up the way you play and provides you with a few more options on each mission. You can spend the points you earn from doing well on a lesson on upgrades, but the upgrades are fairly weak and didn’t seem too important as I played through. Thankfully there are different branches for different playstyles, showing that brute force is still an option, although a slightly tricky one at times; but it would have been nice not to be shepherded into one specific style of play – around half way through I hadn’t taken any of the brute force options so felt a little hamstringed when I was in the mood to go and slice some enemies up rather than being all sneaky. That’s a minor complaint though and is unlikely to affect your enjoyment of the game.
The missions are reasonably varied with some interesting new enemy types as you move on, and the plot is definitely more interesting than it originally seems, stick with it to the end to see what I mean. as we got towards the end I did find myself sprinting through quite a lot of it and skipping the challenge bonus maps because things can get a little repetitive, but for one playthrough there’s definitely enough variation to make finishing it worthwhile.
Overall this is everything an indie game should be. It tells an interesting story, takes a few risks, and is incredibly well polished because it wasn’t too ambitious. For the price it’s got to over the Steam Sales, definitely give it a look.