Out of all the stereotypical video game protagonists out there, I think ninjas are my favourite. I mean, besides the fact that EVERYONE wants to be a ninja (don’t try to deny it), they also just so happen to have the coolest weapons, the coolest tools, and even the coolest outfits. Plus, they’re sneaky as heck, so they’ve often killed their foe before they’ve even realised they’re there.
That last point is the basis of Mark of the Ninja: Remastered – the 2D stealth adventure from developer Klei that has recently released on the Nintendo Switch in a remastered form. It received wide-spread praise when it originally launched back in 2012, but now it’s back and challenging gamers to sneak through levels and kill a ton of enemies without being seen in true old-school stealth action.
The game sees you taking on the role of a ninja who has received the titular ‘mark of the ninja’ – a power which grants the bearer impressive powers. It also causes their mind to slowly deteriorate, which is something the hero suffers from as he sees a battle to protect his clan turn into something much more sinister.
As mentioned, Mark of the Ninja has a strong focus on stealthily taking out your foes, so don’t expect to be like Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa and storming areas whilst slicing and dicing everyone in sight. Every action you make in the game has a sound that is clearly conveyed, and if the enemies notice it they’ll hunt you down. Thankfully, you can sneak around freely, climb walls, dangle across ceilings and hide in the shadows as a means to avoid enemies, so you can certainly take the silent approach whilst heading across levels. Need to get somewhere quick? You’ve also got your grappling hook that can be easily swung to nearby areas with a quick button press to get out of sight.
Besides the grappling hook, you’ve got other tools at your disposal too such as darts and smoke bombs – both of which are useful at not only taking out enemies, but also manipulating the environment to help you go unnoticed. They’ll also be used to solve basic environmental puzzles too, though Mark of the Ninja doesn’t really put too many tricky enigmas in the player’s path with a focus placed on the action (or, more fittingly, the avoidance of it). Oh, it’s worth mentioning that your foes are kitted out with useful tools too. I’ll leave most of them a surprise, but just be warned: some have heartbeat monitors, so killing them will alert every other guard around you…
The gear you have does a good job of making you feel like a ninja though and shows you don’t just have to use your sword to survive in the game. That’s one area in which the player gets extra freedom, though: the killing of enemies. Now it’s possible to evade most enemies in Mark of the Ninja, with plenty of hiding spots and areas to sneak through if you don’t particularly want to spill blood. Alternatively, you can kill everyone you see, with the hero proving to be quite efficient with a blade – if you react quick enough you can pull off a clean kill that doesn’t alert anyone, though if you don’t hit the kill buttons in time it can often be a bit nosier. Don’t forget to hide the bodies though, otherwise a fresh trail of blood will alert your enemies to your presence. Whatever approach you choose to take, it always makes for a lot of fun – it’s actually adds replayability to the experience, with my initial ‘kill everyone I can’ run through the game feeling much different than my pacifist one.
One of Mark of the Ninja’s biggest strengths is the fact that it offers a thrilling stealth adventure that genuinely allows you to approach it exactly how you please. You can sneak through, you can kill enemies, or you can blend them both together – there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play the game, but instead plenty of different approaches that all work.
The fact that it’s 2D and you can see ahead of you helps strengthen this, especially in outdoor areas where you can keep a close eye on patrolling guards (though you can often see a representation of the noises that enemies out of sight make too). It’s in these situations where you can pinpoint enemy locations, work out their patrol routes, and pick hiding positons for yourself – string them all together in one neat little operation, and you can get through areas with absolute ease. Of course, there’s always more than one way to do things be it thanks to an alternate route in a hidden vent, the use of your gadgets, or by shedding lots of enemy blood, but there is something undeniably satisfying about being patient and simply hiding in plain sight.
Of course, this is a stealth game where trial and error comes into play, so you can expect to die a lot too. It’s not that Mark of the Ninja is a particularly hard game (in fact, the enemy AI can be easily exploited at times) but it can still be tricky to get yourself out of a sticky situation if a group of enemies spot you. There are plenty of sub-objectives to think about too as well as collectibles to find, so sometimes you’ll find yourself taking unnecessary risks to try and achieve them all. They often challenge you to play the game in a specific way that might be out of the ordinary, but it’s worth attempting it as it rewards you with more seals to upgrade your abilities with. It might sound like a lot of work, but honestly, it’s so satisfying and actually shows you just how varied Mark of the Ninja’s gameplay really can be.
One of the best things about Mark of the Ninja is that whilst the core gameplay formula stays the same throughout, the situations you find yourself in constantly add variety to the experience. I don’t want to go into detail here so I don’t spoil anything, but each level has a unique feature that’ll change up how you play. It might be the introduction of hazards, more puzzling elements, a huge new area to explore, or even the weather giving away your location – it’s never just a case of sneaking or killing (or both), but actually being aware of everything around you and essentially expecting the unexpected. It makes the game all the more satisfying to play with each new challenge adding an extra thrill to the whole experience.
Seeing as this is Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, it comes with some additional improvements to the graphics, sound, and even adds developer commentary. Those who want even more when they finish the main game will be pleased to see the inclusion of ‘Dosan’s Tale’ – a mini-campaign that gives you a new character to play as across extra levels. There’s certainly plenty on offer with the game, so you can expect to be enjoying the stealthy adventure for quite some time.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC