One of my favorite games of 2012 was Mark of the Ninja, and it remains a top pick for several reasons. Klei Entertainment’s game revitalized my love of deep stealth mechanics, and introduced new elements that capitalized on the 2D landscape. And while stealth is usually the goal, the designers go out of their way to provide numerous paths to game completion, allowing players to choose their own path. No matter your course through the game, Mark of the Ninja unfolds its many layers in just a few hours. A full run at the story can be completed in about a single day. And if you like it, the game’s enormous replay value will have you coming back for lots more.

Mark of the Ninja casts the player as a ninja that’s part of an ancient clan. With your clan in danger, you must accept the mark that provides superhuman ninja prowess, but at the cost of your own madness and eventual death. The story unfolds through beautiful animated cutscenes that are clearly inspired by the heyday of Saturday morning cartoons, albeit with a significantly more mature and bloody spin. In between the cut-scenes, the richly illustrated game world walks that fine line necessary to provide detail in a game shrouded in darkness, and the brutal character animations further accentuate the ninja vibe. 

Most stealth games unfold in a 3D space, but Mark of the Ninja instead opts for a side-scrolling 2D presentation. Tension is provided through the smart use of light, shadow, and sound. Darkness provides a veil as you agilely slide from one shadow to the next. Each movement you or your enemies make creates a visual onscreen circle that indicates the reach of the sound – a feature that smart players can use to their advantage, but one that can spell doom for those without the patience to move with care. 

While each stage is two-dimensional, most areas include multiple avenues to progression. Cruise along the rooftops, or sneak through the sewers. Draw away a crowd of guards with a distraction, or drop into their midst with your ninja sword slashing away. Different styles of play reward the players with new outfits and equipment that provides more tools to play with. Acquiring all these different ways to equip your character is one of the big reasons you might come back and play the game a second time. 

Because of its variable approach to progress, there’s no sure way to know how long Mark of the Ninja might take. Especially if you begin to restart checkpoints that don’t turn out the way that you hoped, things can slow down. However, a thoughtful but efficient playthrough is very possible in around eight hours, making this an ideal game for a fun day off at home. Rich in style, tight on gameplay, and with an amazing ending, Mark of the Ninja deserves to be played. 

To read more about games you can beat in a day, check back at our hub over the course of the day.