Remasters are a gussied up way to peek into the past. It doesn’t always reflect favorably on the game in question, especially if a series or genre has progressed significantly in those interim years. Those interim years can either be used to harshly judge a game against today’s standards or prove its classic status. MARK OF THE NINJA REMASTERED is in the latter camp. While it may only look better and be on a whole new suite of platforms, Mark of the Ninja Remastered’s uncopied formula still makes it one of the best and most unique stealth games ever made even six years later.
And those six years have been filled with a ton of great stealth games. The Dishonored trilogy, Hitman, Metal Gear Solid V, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Splinter Cell Blacklist, and other sneaking adjacent games have pushed the genre forward. Mark of the Ninja appropriately steals some of the essence of those titles and flattens it into two dimensions, giving it a basis in familiarity while also having its own unique flair.
Mark of the Ninja Remastered Review – Forging Your Own Path
It borrows the freedom inherent to a good stealth game and offers the player a tremendous amount of choice in almost every scenario. From level layouts to gadgets to enemy types, Mark of the Ninja excels in all three categories and each of those pillars intersect beautifully.
Levels are sprawling — both horizontally and vertically — and give the player a few different ways to get to their destination or complete their mission. The game’s toolset works in tandem with that amount of freedom. Players may opt to use vents, rooftops, or distraction gadgets to slip by unnoticed or utilize those same tools to silently slaughter anyone who stands in their way. And it’s also possible (albeit harder) to sometimes forgo stealth and face your opposition head-on if you buy the proper upgrades and use them effectively.
Completing optional objectives even lets you heavily specialize in a certain direction, giving players even more options to choose from. Despite the scoring system that oddly penalizes non-stealthy, violent play, Mark of the Ninja’s level design and array of abilities present the player with many interlocking systems and the tools to interact with those systems in a variety of different ways.
Mark of the Ninja Remastered Review – Adapting and Surviving
The game is even constantly changing up how it presents those scenarios to the player. Every stage has something unique, whether it’s a new enemy type, another environmental hazard, or upgrade. For example, one level introduces poison gas that stops you from hiding for too long while also debuting new foes with gas masks and bigger vision cones. And chances are that you will have just purchased a new ability — like vent takedowns or caltrops — that will help you tackle these new threats.
Almost all of the levels follow this brilliant pattern, including the stage that robs you of your gear. This incredibly worn stealth game trope is meant to strip the genre down to its basic form. But Mark of the Ninja flips this cliché on its head because it actually gives you something completely new to play with in the absence of your usual tools.
Constantly surprising the player with new mechanics that smoothly weave into the game’s existing systems results in fantastic pacing and a flawless difficulty curve that makes the game hard to put down even if you’ve already finished it. New Game Plus thrives off the game’s general openness since you can use the late-game items together in new combinations to toy with the enemies and form creative new strategies.
Smooth controls play a huge role in how the game lets players feel so free and in charge. It takes a while to acclimate to the many context-specific prompts, but it offers a level of control only appropriate for a ninja once it clicks. Climbing on ceilings, grappling to ledges, and running up walls almost always move how you want it to and gives you control over the environment in a way that ninja game should. There are even stealth-free challenge missions that focus exclusively on platforming and puzzle solving. They exist for upgrade points, but almost seem like a way for developer Klei to show off the confidence it had in the controls.
Mark of the Ninja Remastered Review – Hiding Info in Plain Sight
Klei even had the confidence to show information to the player that most other stealth titles hide. The trial-and-error gameplay prevalent in the genre’s past has usually stemmed from confusion. How did that guard see me? Who knows? Just reload the checkpoint and try to avoid whatever it was that caught you.
Mark of the Ninja eliminates the tedium of guessing by visually relaying every possible piece of information to the player. Sounds bubbles plainly display exactly how far each noise echoes, vision cones and flashlights show where enemies can see, and you can tell what guards are curious along with the area they’ll investigate.
It may initially seem like cheating but it cuts out a lot of the frustration inherent to the genre since it puts the impetus on you to pay attention to its numerous simple cues. Klei’s willingness to display the raw information assures that the player can focus on being a badass ninja and not whether or not that off-screen dog sniffed out their hiding spot.
This transparent design works incredibly well in 2D, like its sharp art style. Simple colors help cleanly convey the aforementioned stealth information but also give the game a simple yet beautiful look. It’s reminiscent of Samurai Jack with the same fluid Saturday morning cartoon-like animation style. Klei claims that most of the art has been redone in this remaster, but it’s not immediately noticeable given the crisp fidelity of the source material.
That’s an apt microcosm for Mark of the Ninja Remastered as a whole because it’s a pretty standard remaster: it has all the DLC and bonus content from the Special Edition and it looks and runs a little bit better. But it also fills a void that only it filled in 2012. Mark of the Ninja felt like the two-dimensional stealth game that was supposed to kickstart a trend of other two-dimensional stealth games that never came. Time, as proved by this remaster, has shown that it has the staying power of the protagonist’s tattoo. But unlike that tattoo, it is not slowly killing its host: the stealth genre. Instead, the remaster is just a timeless reminder of its importance in the pantheon of sneaking games.
Mark of the Ninja Remastered was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.