We are a cool ninja. We have just received a brand new tattoo and we are still recovering when a nice girl tells us that our ninja clan has been attacked, and it’s time to rescue the sensei. Apparently, this ninja clan remained hidden for centuries, but the enemies finally found it. We move in rescue of the sensei, that unveils the legend: our tattoo is made with a rare extract of a desert flower, and grants us superior senses and reflexes. The toll to pay for them is high, tough: the flower extract used in the mark will sooner or later drive ourselves to madness. The legend of the marked ninja says that the first of the clan to receive the mark become unequalled in strenght and agility, but also became insane, and its reign was a reign of terror. The ninja will continue fight his way out of the plot, receiving marks, becoming stronger and stronger and more and more insane, until its final choice.
The plot is pretty nice, and it is something more than it often is in indie games, namely just a way to justify the new gameplay system. Don’t take me wrong: I really like innovative gameplay, and I understand sometimes a plot is not necessary (who said Antichamber?). On the other hand, I really like to play games that are something like playable movies, and I both enjoy complex stories and characters and freedom of action (games such as Deus Ex, Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind are absolute masterpieces).
Mark of the Ninja is a 2D platformer, with a strong focus on stealth.
Lights and sounds play a key role. You must be careful and avoid been seen when exposed to a source of light. Also, you must be careful to your actions: running, fighting and throwing objects make noise, and the foes have very good hearing. It is very clear to understand whether or not you are in darkness: light beams can be clearly seen, and your ninja changes colour and gets much darker when he can’t be seen. It is also clear to understand if you are going to be detected because you’re too noisy: each noise is generated from a point in space, and the sound waves that depart from that point are visible. In short time, the player learns how far some actions will be heard.
The interaction with enemies is very well done. The ninja can try to sneak past them hiding behind various objects. He can also distract them by making the right noise at the right time. If you are not particularly excited by the idea of ignoring your enemies leaving them without a scratch… then you can kill them. There are various killing techniques, depending on the position of the ninja and the foe (or foes: you can also do double kills). My absolutely favourite one is to hang using a rope, and bring death from the above. As a bonus, the corpse gets bound to the same rope and gets exposed. If a guard will see him, will get terrorized and will start firing compulsory, possibly killing his companions. Amazing! Intially, you cannot do all of the cool assasinations. They are unlocked while you progress in the game: there is a minimal amount of GDR elements. You can choose a “path” of the ninja that best suits you gaming style. I’m apparently a killer, and I really enjoyed the “path of the nightmares”, that makes your life way easier when trying to kill foes. You will also unlock ninja weapons useful either to kill or distract foes or get past difficult objects. Sometimes you will discover special puzzle-like levels, in which you will need to be able to reach a goal in a room without enemies but with traps and complex actions to perform.
Till this point, everything is very well done. But here comes a problem that I really really hate: the game saves using checkpoints and does not allow the player to save whenever he likes to. This fact frustrated me several times: often I wanted to do a fraction of some level in some way that I liked most, and I had to repeat over and over the same 2-3 minutes of gameplay because I was failing at doing the very last part. This is very irritating sometimes, and it also happened that I just quit the game because of frustration.
I played with my loyal Xbox 360 controller, that works like a charm under Linux. The dafault layout is good, and most of the times you will be able to perform the sequence of actions you want to do also if it is rather complicated. Sometimes, however, this fails drammatically: for instance, if you want to grab a roof for getting past some foes unnoticed and you push the right button when you are not close enough to the roof corner, you will perform a nice jump exposing you in direct view of the enemies, that will promptly use weapons to kill you. It would not be a big problem… If you could have saved whenever you desired. But you cannot! It is extremely frustrating in particular when you do a perfect 3-4 minutes gameplay, scoring a lot of points, and then you make a stupid mistake that raises alarms and gets you killed or with score maluses, and you have to restart playing also the part of the level where you already did everything perfectly.
Graphics and sound
The game is technically a good product. It’s a 2D game, with both the played session and the storyline movies realised in a “saturday morning cartoon” style. I’m not sure it suits particularly well the athmosphere of the game, that have a much deeper plot and way more cruelity than any cartoon you may see in TV. Despite that, the realisation is high quality, in particular the final part of the game: I think the last level is a jewel, a piece of art. Performance are generally good, I played it with a powerful video card (a GeForce GTX560) and, as it is obvious, everything went very smoothly. I also tried the game on my notebook: no way of playing it on the integrated Intel video card, but instead was performing decently with the discrete nVidia GT 630M via Bumblebee / Primusrun. As usual, I played the whole game on Linux.
My Steam counter says I’ve played 21 hours. I finished the main campaign once, and I really feel no desire of playing the entire game from the begininnig with higher difficult, given the frustration I got at normal difficult level.
Mark of the ninja is a nice game, that could have been a great one if a save-whenever-you-want system was included. My main problem with the game, in fact, was the frustration of doing the same stuff over and over in order to reach the next checkpoint with my desired outcome. If you tend to be a perfectionist, this may not be the game for you. I prefer things well done to things done quickly, as the score chart of the game proves: