It may be hard to believe that at an event with AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed III, Max Payne 3, and Borderlands 2, the game I enjoyed the most was an XBLA title. But this is a new game from Klei Entertainment, creator of Shank and Shank 2, who are no stranger to quality. Klei was on-hand at PAX East showing off their latest and—dare I say—greatest game yet.
At first glance, Mark of the Ninja, looks very similar to Shank. The art style and animation, the overly-sized jaws—it’s all familiar. But the gameplay itself could not be more different. Instead of running and gunning, pumping baddies full of beatdown and bullets, Mark of the Ninja is a stealth game through and through.
Chatting with Nels from Klei, it’s clear that the design team has the right vision for a ninja game, fully exploring the true essence of a ninja. Sure, a ninja can decimate an entire crowd of enemies as we’ve seen with Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden, but that’s really not the type of ninja we all know and love. Mark of the Ninja does what ninjas do best: They remain unseen, staying close to the shadows and striking when an enemy least expects it.
Appropriately, there is a heavy focus on light and dark, encouraging the player to stay away from well-lit areas (Jackie Estacado notwithstanding). And it’s done so in a very cool, artistic way. When the main character walks into the light, he is suddenly full of color. As soon as he’s back in the shadows, he turns almost entirely black.
Staying hidden allows our ninja to traverse the level without being spotted or to sneak-attack the guards surveying the area. Doing this can be difficult, but if you pay attention to your surroundings, you'll find some way or another to cloak yourself. Even if you are seen, there are vents and other points of escape. In some parts, if you are close to a certain object you can hide in plain sight. Now that’s the type of stuff I know ninjas are capable of, but is never properly displayed in any ninja games.
A grappling hook, bamboo darts, and more are at our ninja’s disposal, providing opportunities to stay to the high-ground and avoid detection, take out lights, or create a diversion to send the guards off to inspect so you can move in for a stealth kill (which are brutal). None of these are things you’ve never seen in a game before, but rarely do they come together so smoothly to create an experience that not only makes you feel like a ninja, but is also a ton of fun to play too. Stealth games can feel tedious at times, but not Mark of the Ninja.
Unfortunately, my playthrough was short, ninja-short, but it was oh-so-sweet, leaving me wanting more and more. Luckily, I won’t have to wait too long, as Mark of the Ninja is planned for a Summer release. It’s being published by Microsoft Game Studios, so this one is exclusive to the Xbox 360. Although Klei couldn’t confirm it, the release timeline and the exclusivity should make this the stand-out title of the upcoming Summer of Arcade on XBLA, aligning it with the likes of Limbo and Bastion.