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Mark of the Ninja

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Stealth

Graphics & Sound:

Mark of the Ninja is Klei Entertainment coming into their own. Their Shank games impressed with their striking artistic styles, but not so much on the gameplay side. Mark of the Ninja is full of surprises, from its incredible production values to its constantly-evolving and always compelling gameplay.

Mark of the Ninja's visuals are absolutely perfect. They literally could not be better. The cartoony artistic design manages to dazzle despite the fact that most of the game takes place in darkness. What I really love about Mark of the Ninja's style is how the visuals affect the gameplay. Sound is visualized by circles of light that rapidly expand when a noise is made. Soft sounds result in small circles, while loud noises can result in circles that nearly fill the screen. If a circle reaches an enemy, the sound will get his attention. Sound can be used in your favor, as well. You can use theatricality and deception to draw attention away from you, but you can also track enemy footsteps when you can't see them. This is incredibly useful, because though this is a 2D game, you can only see what the main character can see. The ink from the main character's tattoo gives him a special kind of preternatural foresight; by leaning against doors, he can see into the rooms beyond.

Sound design is also right on the money, which is good, considering its importance is stealth games. The ambiance works with the soundtrack and the visuals to create a sensory experience that is as powerful as it is cohesive. As expected, the voice work is campy. That's fine, because the story is not even close to being the star attraction in Mark of the Ninja.


Mark of the Ninja has a story, but it really only exists to set you up for its superb gameplay. You are a ninja whose name remains unknown throughout the entire game. You awaken one night to find your ninja base under attack by a team of heavily-armed individuals. Your goal is to exact vengeance upon the ones responsible and get some answers. The story isn't very good, but again, it's purely peripheral.

I'm surprised that we don't see too many two-dimensional stealth-focused games these days. After all, it's a perfect fit; you don't need to be worrying about things that are behind you, and since you're a ninja anyway, it's completely easy to buy the fact. Mark of the Ninja's primary objective throughout is to get from the beginning to the end of each level. That's easier said than done; legions of guards, security systems, and other related obstacles do their best to keep you from getting there. However, you're a well-trained ninja with a number of fantastic tools at your disposal; if you've got the finesse and the patience, you can make it.

Mark of the Ninja doesn't shoehorn you into playing a particular way, and it doesn't judge you for being brutal or merciful (though the Achievements may suggest otherwise). It wants you to make your own experience, and it gives you a number of great tools with which to do so -- and more than once, at that. Mark of the Ninja is a very replayable game, and you'll definitely want to take at least another trip through just to see the different tactical approaches and to scour each level for unlockables you missed the last time around.


Difficulty levels in stealth games must be incredibly difficult to tune, but Mark of the Ninja gets it right. Enemies are intelligent and powerful, but they can be manipulated pretty easily. However, learning the best and most creative ways to manipulate them is one of the greatest joys to be had in Mark of the Ninja.

Regardless of how you choose to play Mark of the Ninja, you should expect to fail every now and then, especially if you're aiming to leave an exceptionally low body count as well as complete all of the seals for each level. Playing this game well is an art, and it requires practice, careful observation, and quick strategic thinking.

Game Mechanics:

Mark of the Ninja plays like a dream. Whether you're slinking around in the darkness or engaging in high-flying acrobatics, the game's controls are spot on and responsive the whole way through. If you want to stick to a particular wall, chances are that you can. Vanishing into cover is as simple as a button press; with a flourish, you disappear into the darkness.

Your diversions range from bamboo darts to noise makers to smoke bombs and so on. Before making use of these agents of deception, it's best to freeze time (another boon from the tattoo on your back) to visualize exactly how the execution will go down; circles predict the range of the sound to be made, and you can adjust your trajectory at your own pace before resuming time.

Of course, some of the best moments in stealth games come from the act of stalking unsuspecting enemies. Once you get close enough, a button press triggers a single (and blessedly short) quick time event. Nailing the QTE results in a silent kill, but botching it results in a messy execution that gives your quarry time to scream in the throes of death. Closing in for the kill is intense and satisfying in Mark of the Ninja, and hiding bodies is not the chore it was in so many Splinter Cell games.

Mark of the Ninja is easily one of Xbox Live Arcade's best offerings, and it is a must-play. From the incredible production values to the exquisite stealth gameplay, it is a quality product through and through. And if you've been craving a true ninja experience (as in one that Ninja Gaiden 3 failed to deliver), Mark of the Ninja will sate your hunger.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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