Long has the videogame market held a place for the much-hyped, often-mediocre ninja game. Time after time, throwing star-happy gamers have been disappointed. But really, can we honestly expect every game to be the equivalent of 1993’s classic film, Surf Ninjas? Well, there’s no Rob Schneider to be found in Klei Entertainment’s excellent stealth game, and while the merits of Mr. Schneider’s performance could be debated forever (ok, not really), there can be no debate regarding Mark of the Ninja: this is a damn good game. Like Ernie Reyes Jr. good.
Now, before you mistake this as being a straight-up review, note that I’ve only played the first two levels. Believe it or not, there’s this little game called Mass Effect 3 (that’s right, I’m still not finished) that is taking up the majority of my gaming time. That said, the first two levels of sneaking and blood-letting suggest the type of high-quality stealth game that we just don’t see anymore. I mean, yeah, Splinter Cell: Conviction was good fun, especially if you like smashing some poor bastard’s head through a bathroom sink or hanging out of a window and shooting 17 henchmen in the head one after another. But true stealth? Splinter Cell: Conviction ain’t it.
When we first meet the unnamed main character, our titular ninja, he has just passed out after receiving a tattoo. Not very ninja-like behavior if you ask me. But wait! Said tattoo also gives him nifty powers to aid in his ninja quest … as well as the not-so-nifty side-effect of eventual insanity. So, uh, the clock’s ticking, dude. You’re probably thinking there’s no place for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles quote in an article that’s supposed to reference Surf Ninjas. The truth is that I was having trouble coming up with another worthy (or not-so-worthy, depending on your generosity) reference to 1993’s magical cinematic romp, but I digress.
At least the tattoo looks cool, although that’s not quite the point. The real significance comes in efficiently conveying the motivation and drive of our character, without wasting any time. I’ve never met a ninja, but in my head I picture them as being the type of wildly efficient people that make no sense to the rest of us (setting aside the fact that they’re, well, ninjas). Efficient in their morning routine, efficient in how they spend a Saturday afternoon, and, most importantly, efficient in the way they silently infiltrate a heavily guarded building. This steely efficiency extends to the game itself as Klei delivers a tightly packaged experience with top notch gameplay and production values.
Gorgeous 2D art design, stealth mechanics that actually work (if a guard is looking in your direction and you’re not cloaked in darkness he WILL see you), and nimble, but never complicated controls add up to a worthwhile ninja experience. Maybe one step below Surf Ninjas. Now if I could just tear myself away from saving the galaxy and swearing at Lions football, I’d be able to give some insight into the middle and end of the game, but hey, I can tell you that you’ll spend your time sneaking around, climbing walls, hanging from ceilings, and stabbing guards real good. What else do you need for $15 bucks? Hell, break out a $20 and you can pick up Surf Ninjas with the change.