Marked by the ninja

Lightning pierces the darkness as I dance across empty rooftops. The rumble of thunder follows, briefly masking my impatient footsteps. As I approach the ledge above the courtyard, my pace slows. The pelting rain that fills the night with wet, white noise isn’t loud enough to drown out the pitter-patter of racing feet. So I proceed cautiously, slithering up to the edge to observe the guards below. I watch intently as they patrol robotically.

As I memorize their routes, I analyze my options. The path is bathed in the glow of a hanging lamp, so I can’t just waltz by without being seen—or without bumping into the armed thugs intent on preventing me from infiltrating their lair. My hands tighten around the grappling hook at my side as I look up to the heavens for salvation, but none reveals itself. Then I see the grate in the courtyard; surely, it leads somewhere unseen.

Moments later, I hurl a dart toward the lamp and leap from my perch. The lamp shatters, distracting the guards as I follow the raindrops and hit the ground. With the beams of the guards’ flashlights diverted skyward, I slip silently under the grate and into the tunnel below. Unnoticed, I creep under the guards and wait. Their footsteps echo in my ears, and if I concentrate, I can feel their bodies above me. Before long, the guards return to their marching orders, oblivious to the interloper in their midst.

I consider continuing through the tunnel and bypassing this latest line of defense without bloodshed. These men don’t need to die tonight. But they’re also not not innocent bystanders like all those independent contractors working on the second Death Star. These are armed henchmen, and their boss is responsible for an attack on my clan. I’ve left too many bodies in my wake to start showing mercy now. That’s not how this ninja rolls.

After backtracking, I hang under the grate and wait for my moment. When the first guard walks overhead, his partner facing the opposite direction, I pull my prey into the underworld with a single, swift motion. He never sees it coming. Confidence coursing through my veins, I return topside for an encore—except my timing is off, and the attack is too brazen. I’m spotted and stop like a deer frozen in headlights. I could fight, I could flee, but I can think only of the intense shame I feel in being detected at all. And so I stand motionless, resigned to my fate as bullets rip through my body. Somehow, this effective suicide feels more honorable than the alternatives or restarting from the last checkpoint.

My obsessive-compulsive tendencies don’t usually crop up when I’m playing games, but there’s something about Mark of the Ninja that inspires me to pursue perfection. Perhaps that’s because Klei Entertainment’s latest side-scroller is as closest thing to a perfect game as I’ve experienced in a very long time.

Klei is the same studio that brought us Shank, and Mark of the Ninja‘s beautifully painted 2D world has the same artistic vibe. What the graphics lack in fancy 3D effects they more than make up for with style. The cel-shaded environments are a good fit for the two-dimensional landscape, and some of the backdrops are truly gorgeous.

While Shank is a bombastic brawler, Mark of the Ninja is a stealthy crawler. Taking on the opponents who stand in your way is entirely optional; indeed, there’s a bonus for completing levels without killing a soul. You’re ill-equipped for head-on combat, anyway. Foes must be assassinated surgically or bypassed entirely if you’re to have any hope of survival.

I’ve tried playing the game without resorting to violence, but that’s not really my style. I’m a killer at heart, and the game sympathizes. It awards points for taking down enemies silently, plus more for stashing their bodies out of sight. The ability to choose between a range of different character and equipment upgrades allows players to perfectly tune their ninjas to suit their playing styles. While some may prefer to hide in the shadows, my ninja is trained to strike from them.

Enemy encounters play out a lot like puzzles, with multiple routes and inventory items offering distinctly different ways to pass through a given area. The environments are littered with hazards and hiding places. Lights are everywhere, but only some of them can be disabled. Motion detectors and lasers add more variety, making it challenging to navigate some sections even when there’s no one around. Amazingly, this 2D platformer feels like less of an on-rails experience than an awful lot of 3D shooters that have a whole other dimension to lean on.

Unlike some platformers, Mark of the Ninja seems to be devoid of annoying jumping puzzles and other sequences that require impossibly perfect timing. The precise, methodical nature of the gameplay does leave me disappointed in the mushy feel of the analog stick on my Xbox 360 game controller, though. Perhaps I’m too spoiled by the feel of the mechanical keyboard and high-end gaming mouse attached to my desktop PC.

While Mark of the Ninja has surprising depth, the accompanying narrative is pretty thin. Not that the game needs a story. The rewarding gameplay is all the motivation I need to keep going. I’m even itching to replay earlier levels now that my ninja has learned new, deadlier tricks. In fact, I’m more excited about doing that than I am about picking up where I left off in Dishonored, in part because Mark of the Ninja plays much better on the big-screen TV in my living room. Later in the evening, which is usually the only time I have to play games, slumping on the couch is a lot more appealing than spending more time in my office.

Like most good games, Mark of the Ninja has kept me up later than I intended on several occasions. I’m not staying up to play just one more level, though; more often than not, I’m trying to perfect a complicated sequence of actions to clear an area while avoiding detection. Mark of the Ninja makes me want to be a better player, as if my contribution to the experience should live up to the game’s impeccable design.

If you don’t trust my enthusiasm, look no further than Metacritic, which rates Mark of the Ninja an impressive 92. You can grab the game on Steam for just $15, and it’s worth every penny in my book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with the shadows. My next victim awaits.

Comments closed
    • lycium
    • 7 years ago

    I bought it on the strength of this mini review, and while it’s great fun the controls are a bit “sticky”… frustrating :S

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 7 years ago

    Why is your analog stick is mushy?

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      It happens as one gets older. 🙁

        • ALiLPinkMonster
        • 7 years ago

        The analog stick or the user?

        Kidding. As long as it’s not dinosaur status yet, opening up the controller and cleaning helps a lot. All that dust and pizza grease can really have an impact on the feel. If the base of the stick is damaged you can find replacement parts on the interwebs for fairly cheap, and they even come in pretty colors (my sticks and buttons are all pink).

          • MadManOriginal
          • 7 years ago

          Not sure if didn’t get innuendo, or took it to a whole other level -_-

            • ALiLPinkMonster
            • 7 years ago

            … let’s go with the second one.

    • rrr
    • 7 years ago

    Finally some interesting game.

    • ALiLPinkMonster
    • 7 years ago

    Cool. I’ve been looking for a good semi-casual game to supplement Halo and Borderlands, and this is right up my alley.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 7 years ago

    This game sounds really good, but I’m soooo looking forward to the new Hitman game. (Sadly, my current machine won’t be able to play it).

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    Friends don’t let friends buy a Steam game at full price the week before the Black Friday Steam Sale and probably a month before Holiday 2012 Steam Sale.

      • Sargent Duck
      • 7 years ago

      I agree with you, but some games are just worth it and given the low price these games usually are, I don’t mind paying full price knowing that the developers will get a large cut.

      It was during the final hours of the Steam Halloween sale that I came across “Zombie Shooter 2” for $2.50. I grabbed the demo and had a blast playing, but by time I was done the demo, the sale was over and it was back to $10.00. I was annoyed at myself for missing the deadline, but bought the game for full price anyways. 12 hours later and very satisfied with my zombie kill count (who can’t appreciate a rocket launcher that shoots nukes?) I’m glad I bought when I did and didn’t wait.

      • Arclight
      • 7 years ago

      Next week is black friday? I can’t wait.

        • HisDivineOrder
        • 7 years ago

        Didst thou misspeaketh the words? Or perhaps did you speak every single little syllable and instead just play so much Call of Duty you forgot what month it was? 😉

        Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. YOU GOT THAT?

      • ludi
      • 7 years ago

      Fifteen bucks.

      No, really, fifteen bucks, and you’re supporting an indie developer.

        • HisDivineOrder
        • 7 years ago

        Or I can support an indie developer with $11.24 instead…

          • HisDivineOrder
          • 7 years ago

          Or now $7.49 for 48 hours.

          Yeeaaah… I think people would be better served with the waiting.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 7 years ago

    Next blog: a writeup of your HTPC system, if it can be stretched into an article. If not just post here 🙂

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      HTPC system that I just threw together last weekend…

      Fractal Design Define Mini
      i3-3225
      Asus P8H77-M Pro
      8 Gig Ram
      Passive Geforce GT 520
      Intel NIC

      8 – Hitachi 3k series 2TB drives
      2 – Hitachi 3k series 3TB drives
      1 – Patriot 60 GB SSD Boot drive

      Running openSUSE Tumbleweed and the Git version of XBMC.

        • solo_clipper
        • 7 years ago

        That is a lot of work and money. I am cheap and lazy so I just use a $10 flash drive or dlna from my existing pc.

          • Deanjo
          • 7 years ago

          It wasn’t that bad, about $1400 for everything with about $1000 of that being chewed up in drives.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 7 years ago

            [quote<]$1400[/quote<] ...which is a lot of money.

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            Not really when you look at the total price of a good complete home theater system it is a small fraction of the total cost. Granted not everyone can afford it but it doesn’t make it any less capable of doing the job better then most solutions. People pay 2+ K on a TV, 2k+ on an speaker and amp setup, a grand or more a year on HD TV subscription, etc ,etc.

        • ludi
        • 7 years ago

        22GB of storage drives? Wut?

          • Deanjo
          • 7 years ago

          Yuppers, tonnes of HD media.

          [code<] xbmc@Coeus:~> df -h -H -t xfs Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on /dev/sdg1 2.0T 1.7T 399G 81% /local/2000-5 /dev/sdd1 3.0T 3.0T 5.8G 100% /local/3000-1 /dev/sda1 2.0T 1.4T 641G 68% /local/2000-3 /dev/sde1 2.0T 81G 2.0T 5% /local/2000-4 /dev/sdf1 2.0T 34M 2.0T 1% /local/2000-2 /dev/sdh1 2.0T 652G 1.4T 33% /local/2000-1 /dev/sdc1 3.0T 3.0T 5.9G 100% /local/3000-2 /dev/sdi1 500G 34M 500G 1% /local/500-1 /dev/sdl1 2.1T 1.4T 625G 69% /local/2000-8 /dev/sdj1 2.0T 34M 2.0T 1% /local/2000-6 /dev/sdk1 2.0T 864G 1.2T 44% /local/2000-7 xbmc@Coeus:~> [/code<]

            • Kurotetsu
            • 7 years ago

            In your opinion, is keeping the storage local to the HTPC a superior solution to keeping the storage separate and accessible over a network? I’ve seen HTPCs that do one or the other and they both seem to have their strengths (local would be faster to access and probably easier to setup; network-based would be “safer” and your HTPC doesn’t have to be huge enough to accomodate all the drives) and weaknesses.

            • pedro
            • 7 years ago

            Good question.

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            In my mind a local solution is better. A network based system isn’t “safer” in fact it is just one more device to exploit from a security POV. Local of course is faster in many respects (just browsing a large local library vs a large network library where latency and through put can really put a damper on the browsing of the media). DNLA just sucks for the most part but that’s more of an issue because many DNLA servers restrict their filename characters to ones that are recognized by windows files systems. Cost wise you are also better off with a local system as having a good NAS setup with decent throughput gets to be an expensive endevour.

            A local a system also has the advantage of being easily able to spot items like drive failures before they are too late. This little system also live transcodes the local IPTV streams easily to my portable devices. If you run out of space in the case you can also go and easily add something like a 4 bay esata/USB3 enclosure and again have that much more local storage.

            • vargis14
            • 7 years ago

            I use my 2600k gaming tower as my home main home storage server with 3 2tb green drives, a 1tb black drive and my old 1st gen corsair force 60gb OS SSD.

            Hooked to my 3d tv is one of my 2 i3 powered systems with a 1tb black drive for the OS and a 1tb 5400rpm storage drive i have just started to use since my 3D library is quite big and i do not keep a lot of 2d material on that machine since its gigabit networked. Wired baby 🙂

            My other i3 HTPC has only a 500gb HD that is plenty big since i can stream from my 2600k rig or my 3d rig.

            • shank15217
            • 7 years ago

            you should look into glusterfs, that way you can add and remove drives as well as get data on individual drives easily.

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            I don’t see any problem in adding removing drives on individual partitioned drives either. I don’t see any real advantage to going glusterfs on a relatively small system like this. If I really wanted to go with a better filesystem that might be better suited for a HTPC task it would be zfs.

          • anotherengineer
          • 7 years ago

          Wut indeed, that’s 22 TB!!!!!!!!

          • MadManOriginal
          • 7 years ago

          Two words: HD pr0n.

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