The lights are on
Power Member - Level 9
Mark of the Ninja is the ultimate ninja fantasy. From the moment that you take control, you are given the power and tools to be the master of your environment. As you quietly move from shadow to shadow making choices for the oblivious guards that surround you, the power over life and death are in your hands. As you proceed through the story and unlock new abilities, you are given the tools to reach scores that initially seem unattainable. The costumes and tools that you unlock give you the advantage you need to succeed regardless of your preferred play style. The balance of Mark of the Ninja is best defined by the equal satisfaction derived from going through a level with controlled passivity and with controlled aggression. Mark of the Ninja is a remarkable 2D stealth game, and one of the greatest titles available on XBLA.
The silent Ninja's story begins with an assault on the Hisomu clan by a group of mercenaries. You awaken after a particularly grueling tattoo session with Dosan, the clan's tattoo expert. The tattoo marks that the Ninja bears for the duration of the game are made from toxic ink. This ink provides the Ninja with the ability to protect the clan and fulfill his duty, but it will also cause him to descend into madness at which point the Marked Ninja is tasked with killing himself for his personal honor as well as that of his clan.
By completing certain parts of the story, the tattoo of the Ninja will be completed, and it will give the Ninja even more fantastic supernatural abilities. Completing levels with a certain amount of points, finding scrolls, and successfully accomplishing special conditions during levels will net the player Seals. Seals are the currency used to buy upgrades for tools and new abilities. The tools include poisoned darts that terrorize guards on contact and smoke bombs that allow you to dispatch guards without outmaneuvering them. The abilities and other upgrades consist of upgrades to your assassination techniques, the ability to assassinate from beneath when peeking through a vent or the ability to assassinate from a perch when an enemy is beneath you. Other upgrades affect things like the time it takes to effectively pick a lock or the amount of noise made by running through environments.
As you progress through the story, you will constantly be unlocking new tools, assassination techniques, and costumes. The environments are varied and how you proceed through them is directly affected by how you choose to equip yourself at the beginning of the level and through the levels at little ninja repositories. While the extra costumes and wealth of options provide the hardcore with hours of replay value, you will most likely try everything out once or twice and settle on your favorite combination late into your first playthrough of the game. Personally, I settled on the Path of the Mark costume, the costume that grants you the Mark of Serenity, with the single attack item, Hisomu Terror Dart. However, your preferred combination would be different from mine and would better suit your play style.
During the course of the game, you will get two major additions to your tattoo, the Mark. The first addition will grant you the Farsight ability while the second addition will grant you the Mark of Serenity, a 2D version of the Blink ability from Dishonored. Farsight will provide with a multi-colored x-ray vision that will allow you to see the details of the environment and positions of guards without putting yourself into the enemies' line of sight. The Mark of Serenity will allow you to teleport to any area of the environment within range that is unobstructed by floors, walls, or ceilings. These two abilities combine to create a decided supernatural advantage for the Ninja. Unfortunately, by the end of the game, your superiority will surpass the design of the game. For a game that has the uncompromising nature of the stealth genre, these two powers are in stark contrast to the slow and methodical pace that the early stages encourage. While these two abilities do not break the game, they do provide the player with what many fans of this genre will consider too great an advantage.
Mark of the Ninja combines the artistic sensibilities of anime style cartoons with tight gameplay focusing on stealth to create an unforgettable experience. While every ability does not feel properly balanced when compared to the uncompromising nature of the stealth in the game, the game excels in so many ways that this single complaint does not in any way take away from the overall quality of the game. The story is surprisingly deep with twists and turns leading to a satisfying, albeit inevitable, conclusion. Klei Entertainment's highly-stylized, downloadable darling, Mark of the Ninja, will deliver hours of entertainment by providing you with the options needed to master the environment and fulfill your ninja fantasy.
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Available for Xbox 360 (via XBLA) and PC (Steam)
Art style used in cutscenes
The balance between light and dark combined with vibrant backgrounds
Yellow denotes distraction; blue denotes the area effect of sound. The interplay of colors provide a straightforward HUD that allows the art style to shine.
XBLA version used for review