Klei has already proven with Shank and Shank 2 that they know how to make truly great 2D action titles, and now Mark of the Ninja has also made the jump from XBLA to PC. Even though this is a console port, just like the two Shank games, it doesn’t feel console-ish in any way, so high marks for effort! But that alone does not a great ninja game make.
In Mark of the Ninja, you’re – not surprisingly – a ninja. Not just any ninja, mind you, because your body has a cursed mark on it. While being cursed is never a good thing, this one does have certain benefits, even if it is still a curse. But hey, that’s the hand fate has dealt you, and being a ninja is not a remotely boring lifestyle, cursed or not, because that little curse of yours grants you heightened senses among other things, which is going to come in handy quite often. The journey through Mark of the Ninja is a dangerous one, and if you want to actually survive, your best is to stick to the shadows and strike with swift precision, ensuring that your target won’t get a chance to alert his buddies. Why? Well, once spotted, your chances of survival drop to pretty much zero, since you’re not wearing any armour or other defensive clothing; plus, the bad guys really like using their guns!
There are plenty of checkpoints and when things get tough, you’ve got an arsenal of gadgets to aid you in various ways, from distracting guards to getting rid of light sources and even smoke bombs (never leave home without them). But since you’re quite fragile and your health doesn’t regenerate – you’re a ninja after all, not Master Chief – you’re still better off avoiding detection entirely. The game can be enjoyed with an action-oriented approach, but it will be far more challenging, and your score will be much lower, since you won’t be racking up those big points that you get from pulling off stealthy kills, sneaking by guards undetected and so on.
Normally I wouldn’t emphasize the importance of points in a game like this, but since they’re used to unlock abilities, items, and upgrades their importance can’t be ignored. This does make for a bit of irony, however, since a skilled player will be able to accumulate a higher amount of points faster than someone less skilled, thus having access to a wider selection of upgrades/abilities. But.. are they really going to prove all that useful if he/she is already that good? They actually just might, since Mark of the Ninja is a textbook example of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. Even more so in the New Game Plus mode, which can be unlocked by beating the game.
Sneaking, slicing and stabbing aside, a PC port of a console game is only as strong as its controls and here, Mark of the Ninja is problem-free. It works just as well with a keyboard/mouse setup as a 360 controller, so PC gamers won’t need a gamepad for the optimal experience here. But speaking of optimal: Reviewers have already praised the XBLA version like there’s no tomorrow, including Destructoid who said “I find Mark of the Ninja to be perfect. Let it stand as the benchmark by which all stealth games are now measured.” Well, what are you waiting for?