The lights are on
True stealth games are a dying breed. The latest Splinter Cell was action-heavy, the new Hitman seems to punish players who try to diffuse a situation by picking off targets one by one, and even Dishonored has some moments where you are encouraged to use weapons like grenades or the flintlock pistol to solve problems. Not in Mark of the Ninja.
This beautifully animated 2D stealth game is a callback to titles like Splinter Cell and Thief. While combat is an option, you would be a fool to try. You face off against heavily armed guards who will kill you with a single burst from their guns, and you don't have anything to match up against them.They will also alert other guards, which will end with you being dead.
To survive in this unforgiving world, you will need to be a master of stealth. Sneaking up on your opponents, slitting their throats, and hiding the bodies is the main way of taking your foes out. But after every level, you get experience points that you can spend on new skills and tools. Things like being able to take down an enemy while hiding in a doorway, caltrops to trip up your opponent, and even a cardboard box to sneak around in.
However, unlike Assassin's Creed or Hitman, when you pull off a kill you have a quicktime event where you have to move the right stick in the direction that the arrow is pointing. If you fail, your opponent will struggle and scream before you pull off the kill, alerting the guards. It is a nice touch that makes stealth kills more cinematic and immersive.
Your Ninja can scale walls with ease, opening up levels so that you can sneak past guards multiple ways. The levels are usually very open with many different paths littered with collectibles. You also acquire a grappling hook that adds even more mobility.
Like Splinter Cell, stealth focuses on light and sound for stealth. Everything has a small circle of sound, and any guard in that circle will become suspicious. The characters are all black and white in the dark, which greatly compliments the art direction. Speaking of that, the graphics are some of the best I have ever seen. The characters are all exaggerated and look very distinct, like they are in the Batman cartoon in the 90's.
But not everything is fantastic in this game. Later in the game, you get a teleport power that feels gimmicky and only seemed to work when it felt like it wanted to. That is a problem when paired with the late game enemy type that can't be killed, which feels like a cop-out to add fake difficulty. And if that wasn't bad enough, they are also ninjas and will check your hiding spots unprovoked. Thankfully, they are only in the game for two short levels.
Mark of the ninja is a near-perfect game held back by a few questionable design choices. Thankfully, it doesn't hold this game back from being one of the best stealth games I have ever played.
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