Stealth games have been in a bit of a lull lately. The genre was once very strong in its original form. Games like Thief and Splinter Cell defined it. But since that time franchises that address stealth have usually gone for more of an action-intense route. Splinter Cell basically turned into a video game version of 24, with way less emphasis on the stealth portion of the game. Most other games have abandoned the idea entirely.
But along comes Mark of the Ninja, a fresh new title with a huge emphasis on the stealth portion of gaming. While it uses a 2D side-scrolling view, it uses every opportunity that brings. Its easy to find ledges to climb up, see the paths of guards and the lights that you need to stay out of. Side-note: why do these places always use the least amount of light possible? Haven’t they ever thought of just putting a couple of florescent tubes up on the ceiling?
What you’ll be doing mostly in Mark of the Ninja is avoiding the combat instead of engaging in it. The game heavily discourages straight-on assaults. On the rare occasion I got caught in head-on combat with a guard, my sword was no longer usable and I went into hand-to-hand. Guards would quickly jump out of the way and try to gun me down (pro tip: they usually did). Its best to avoid these confrontations altogether and sneak around, take them down when they least expect it.
Stealth kills are probably the most rewarding part of the game. Tap X once to start a kill, then perform the combo on the screen to do it silently. Failing the combo turns into a messy kill that can be heard a mile away, but silent kills are like a quiet dance of death. Sneaking up on guards isn’t always easy either. They may constantly be watching their back, so throwing a noise-maker next to the guard may give you the precious few moments needed to get in for the execution.
My biggest takeaway was that it makes me want to be stealthy in a game again. Other than last year’s incredible Batman: Arkham City, stealth games that make you want to go stealth are very rare these days. MotN gives you tons of motivation to plan your attacks, watch the tip-tap of people walking around and note all of your surroundings. Hey there’s a light in the corner of the room, maybe I could throw a dart at it to distract the nearby guards and then sneak around them.
Replay value here will be high since the levels are just long enough to be interesting, but short enough to restart. I’ve already beat one level without killing a single person or getting detected. The game will give you big bonus points for doing that. There are also multiple paths to victory. You might want to crawl under the vents or you might want to hang from the rafters. I will be pretty interested in trying to achieve that no-kill-no-detect reward for every single level.
MotN comes from Shank creators Klei Entertainment. These guys proved their worth on Shank, Shank 2 and Eets. One thing I don’t think anyone is talking about yet is their runaway success with combining smooth, comic-style animations with solid gameplay. If they keep running things as smooth as they are today they will certainly have a strong following for any of their new entries. I hate to say it, but most indie developers end up being sort of one shot wonders in this industry. Its pretty refreshing to see someone coming up with consistently good ideas.
Mark of the Ninja is available on Xbox Live Arcade right now, you can also grab a demo of the game beforehand. Last night I played a level in a livestream, which you can view below: