It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Klei Entertainment; Shank and Shank 2 are two of my favorite XBLA games. When Klei announced Mark of the Ninja I was excited. My excitement doubled as I quickly found out that this isn’t the standard ninja game we have come to expect. Instead of a hack-n-slash game, Mark of the Ninja is a stealth game that stays true to what a ninja really is: a silent assassin. At PAX East I had the opportunity to sit with Klei founder Jamie Cheng and get some hands-on time with Mark of the Ninja.
Jamie says that the best ninjas are the ones that you don’t even know are there, and that philosophy definitely makes its way into the game. If you are detected by an enemy you can continue fighting; however, you will quickly find yourself overpowered by your enemies, who carry guns. In this demo I was equipped with a short sword, darts, and a grappling hook. Jamie says that as the game progresses you will gain access to other items such as fire crackers and spike mines.
Something very notable was that, with the exception of the spike mine, the secondary items you have at your disposal don’t kill. They are really only tools that help make you a better ninja. Use darts to break lamps or fire crackers to cause a distraction, but at the end of the day you will likely wind up getting up-close with your target. As you go in for the kill you need to make sure you hit the proper direction on the analog stick, which changes with kills. If you fail to do so you will still get the kill, however, the enemy will struggle; making noise which might alert nearby enemies.
You want to try your best to stay in the dark. You use grates to sneak through tunnels and vents, use your grappling hook to climb on top or above lights, or even hide in a closet or other areas if you find yourself in a tight spot. Leaving dead enemies around will alert others to your presence. You can hide bodies in vents, closets, and various other areas to make sure your presence goes undetected.
In the dark enemies can only see a short distance in front of their face; there is an indicator present to show you how far they can see. If an enemy is standing in a lit area looking into the dark, they can only see that short distance. On the flipside, if an enemy is in the dark and you’re under a light, they will see you no matter how far they are from you. This is something that should be taken into consideration when planning how to take out foes.
Besides not being seen, you need to make sure you aren’t heard. Running is of course louder than sneaking, and enemies will be able to detect you from a pretty far distance if you’re not careful. To help you, there is an indicator bubble that appears for every step you take while running. The distance that it expands represent how far out an enemy can hear you. Besides running, there are other items in game that make noise if you interact with them. Breaking lamps will draw enemies’ attention toward that area as will other items such as hitting a gong as a distraction.
When you traverse vents your vision outside of those vents is severely limited. If you just pop out of the vents going into a new room, you may find a nasty surprise waiting for you. Fortunately, you can lean against the vents to get a peek at what’s inside the next room and plan accordingly.
As with previous Klei games, Mark of the Ninja looks fantastic. The art style is the same as Shank’s, which looks like it could be torn directly out of a comic book. The animations and movements of the ninja were slick, giving you a believable stealth feel. There was no epic soundtrack like you’ll find in Shank 2, but I imagine it’s because the sound of your footsteps and other items are very important here. There was an ambiance that worked well with the mood of the visuals, and the sound effects of the ninja and his tools at work were nice.
As good as I thought Mark of the Ninja was going to be, it was better. I am looking forward to Mark of the Ninja as much as I am looking forward to games such as Bioshock Infinite, Max Payne 3, and Assassin’s Creed 3. This game was definitely my favorite game from PAX East this year, and more than likely it will be my favorite XBLA game of the year. Mark of the Ninja will be coming this summer. Get that hack-n-slash out of your system; it’s time to be a real ninja.