Mark of the Ninja Review

So I’ve recently picked up the game Mark of the Ninja.  It’s a 2D side-scroller stealth action game.  I know, I know…that sounds like an odd combination, but surprisingly enough it works pretty well.

The story is interesting: You play as a nameless ninja who has been imbued with a series of tattoos that grant you special powers, supposedly at the eventual cost of your sanity and ultimately your life.  You are a warrior of the Hisomu Ninja clan, fighting against the wealthy and powerful Count Karajan who has attacked your clan’s headquarters in the opening segments of the game.

1

The atmosphere is beautifully rendered with a wonderful art style.  It is a mix of child-like neutrality with the wonderfully drawn sprites, backgrounds, and cut scenes; right up until you jam a sword through someone’s throat, that is.

Like this!

Like this!

The stealth kills are cool to watch and have a nifty feature.  You have to sneak up on a guard, click the attack button, and then you have to slide the mouse in whatever direction it says to in order to get a perfect stealth kill.  Pull it in the wrong direction and you won’t kill him before he can call out, bringing more guards your way.

All of the guards are wearing body armor, which won’t stop your sword of course, but they can definitely hold out against more punishment than you can in an open fight.  Not to say that you’re entirely useless in a fight, unlike in the Tenchu series of ninja games; they’ll just gang up on you and brutally rape you with bullets.

Speaking of Tenchu, that particular series has really fallen from grace in the past decade.  The first game was wonderful, the second one was a nice improvement, and we find ourselves at Wrath of Heaven which, aside from the hilarious title if you know a touch of Japanese, was probably the best in the series*.  Unfortunately they’ve made several more since then…and each one seems to be worse than the last.

The folks who make Tenchu need to do something if they ever want to get back in on the ninja scene.  My suggestion would be to sell the rights to the folks at Klei Entertainment who made Mark of the Ninja.

Looking at their website I recognize a game I was actually looking at a few weeks ago called Don’t Starve which looked nifty.  You might know them more from their game N+, which I seem to recall playing a demo of over a year ago on X-Box Live Arcade.

You can upgrade your character to unlock new tools and skills.

You can upgrade your character to unlock new tools and skills.

Oh right, Mark of the Ninja…sorry, a bit of tangential nostalgia for me.  Anywho…the game’s pretty awesome.  The music is atmospheric, when present at all, the dialogue is realistic, and the graphics are superb.

But most importantly, the gameplay is excellent.  I’ve seen some reviews of the game talking about glitchy guards and poor controls…these people don’t know what they’re talking about.  Unless they really ramped up the shit for the PC version and fixed anything that was wrong with the XBLA version?  Either way, go to steam and buy a copy of Mark of Ninja.

We are Ninja, not Motel 6...we will not leave the light on!

We are Ninja, not Motel 6…we will not leave the light on!

My one real complaint about the game is your ‘partner’, Ora.  She is just a useless shadow to follow you around.  The first thing she tells you, aside from squawking at you to wake up, is, “I’m here to help you.  Rule number one: Don’t get me killed!”

If you’re so great that you are leading the friggin’ Champion of Hisomu around, why are you so concerned about me getting you killed?  As great as she talks herself up to be…she doesn’t kill a single person or perform a real service.

I will give her credit that she at least claims she will hold off any soldiers you’ve chased away from the enemy base with a decoy, y’know…should they try to return.  Of course it’s one of those, “If you don’t finish the mission in time, I’ll kill the guys coming back from the decoy, unghgg!”

She looks cool and the actress doing her voice is pretty good (and vaguely familiar).  But she’s just along for the ride, even though she is clearly supposed to be one of the more talented ninja of the clan.  They put her in the ‘Sexy Sidekick’ trope and she actually is more annoying than helpful, since she just orders you around, but doesn’t even knife a single guard in the neck, herself.

Ooo...rainy and atmospheric.

Ooo…rainy and atmospheric.

Sidenote: On the subject of voice actors…if you liked the guy who did the narration for the Penny Arcade games (Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness) you’ll be delighted to know he does a few voices in this game, as well.

There’s really no one set way to play through a level.  You can tackle passage and killing in numerous ways, you can even go through an entire level without killing anyone.  I, of course, am a rather violent person (apparently) and kill as many as I possibly can.

Vengeance will be mine!

Vengeance will be mine!

There’s even an interesting ending that gives you multiple options.  So far I’ve only beaten the game once, so I don’t know what the second ending gives as I’ve only gotten one of them.  The ending is pretty nifty and a bit of a mindfuck, so it’s right up my alley.  The ending also makes my prior comments about Ora change a bit, as she kind of redeems herself in an unexpected way and isn’t just the boastful damsel the game makes you think she is.

There are hidden puzzles and even whole hidden puzzle rooms that unlock these special scrolls that give you nifty, often violent-y, haikus.  Oh, they also give you about a thousand points to your score…but the haikus are where it’s at.

Haiku:

I spent my life’s worth,

On the tortures of women,

So I became Gay.

Okay, their haikus are way better than mine.  Basically…aside from Ora (which, like I said, winds up being not nearly as bad as it seemed at first), the game is pretty awesome and I highly recommend it.  Go play it and find some of the haikus for yourself!

Look for these if you want to find the hidden puzzle rooms!

Look for these if you want to find the hidden puzzle rooms!

~RCS

*Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is a hilarious title for the game because Tenchu is Japanese for “Heaven’s Wrath/Punishment”.  Therefore the title, in Japanese, would be Tenchu: Tenchu.  And in full English it would be Heaven’s Wrath: Wrath of Heaven!  Just a nifty little observation for you there.

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