Having never played the original version, and being somewhat of a fan of stealth games, I was quite excited to get hands on with Mark of the Ninja: Remastered. When it comes to games like this, it’s vital that there’s a good blend of gameplay options within, or else the whole formula becomes stale. Although of an entirely different design, I felt that Aragami hit all the right spots. That said, how did I feel when I hit the end of Mark of the Ninja? Like a freakin’ ninja myself! There’s issues to overlook, indeed, but this is a solid game to play.
Mark of the Ninja is a 2D side-scroller that throws players into the role of a nameless, tattooed ninja. These aren’t normal tattoos, but tattoos that enable the protagonist to wield powerful and deadly abilities. The catch? The bearer who wears these tattoos will eventually be driven insane. There’s a relatively interesting revenge plot to soak up throughout, a plot that’s told through a mixture of both gorgeously drawn animated cutscenes and some decently voiced narration from your brand new female accomplice, Ora.
I wouldn’t say the story is the strong suit here, but even so, it held my attention nicely throughout. The actual gameplay, on the other hand, is as sharp, as deep and as fluid as a stealth game should be. Now, with this being a remaster, you can expect the usual touch-ups. The visuals, cutscenes, audio files and effects have all been redefined to sit inline with current gen expectations. By and large, it’s a much cleaner game when compared to the much loved original version, complete with the fairly bulky special edition expansion.
This means you’re getting the core game, as well as some additional story elements, a new character, extra items and heaps of developer commentary and like-minded goodness – a decent return for your investment. Starting up, you’re free to select whether or not you want to play the Campaign or Dosan’s Tale. The latter being a short prequel that throws players into the role of the titular Dosan, a character that we meet in the main story. The main difference between the two, mechanically speaking, is that Dosan doesn’t use a sword.
Instead, he relies heavily on his flexibility via some good old fashioned fisticuffs. It’s a neat addition to say the least and certainly worthy of the main event, but for me, I have to say I much preferred getting up close and personal with a blade. Thus, the Campaign is where I spent most of my time with Mark of the Ninja. Here, players assume the role of the aforementioned unnamed ninja. Each of the campaign’s thirteen levels typically offer a similar template; make it to a specific section marked on your map, and then haul ass.
Your objectives will vary throughout each level, such as grab three keys from three different guards, activate a switch, escape a room before it fills with toxic gas, and so on and so forth. You’re oftentimes given several objectives per-level, though very rarely do these ever deviate from stacking on top of one another. As such, the crux of play usually sees you moving from one portion of the map to the next and fulfilling your current assignment, before consecutively being sent on the next assignment. It’s a decent system to lean on.
On top of that, you’re also given a range of optional tasks to complete – though these tend to push your ninja skills to the max and mostly require that you to do things you probably wouldn’t normally do. Nevertheless, your tasks are always well laid out and easy to understand. It’s fulfilling them that’s the hard part. Thankfully, Mark of the Ninja’s controls are as accurate and as precise as you could hope for them to be. Despite the occasional environmental issue and a few bugs, most of your failures will be a result of human error.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Mark of the Ninja, is that it caters for varying play-styles. Want to be the ninja that you’re clearly suggested to be? Stealth is always going to be your best friend. Want to throw that out of the window and go at this like a quiet Chuck Norris? You can do that too. Hell, you can even be a blend of both if you so see fit. Regardless as to what level you’re taking on, you’ll always have a large pool of enemies and hazards laying in wait. You’re free to take them on directly, or disregard them completely and sneak on by.
Enemies will react to you in different ways, each coming with their own behavioral and attack patterns, and varying cones of view. You’ll always be able to see just how far any given enemy can see (or smell) you, as well as their radius of awareness, which is key for when you want to distract one guard to take him out, before moving onto his now isolated friend. If a guard becomes suspicious, they’ll glow yellow and begin seeking you out. If, however, they spot you, they’ll glow red and start attacking you until you go incognito.
Our nameless ninja dies very quickly, taking no more than a good melee or a few slugs from from his opposition before he’s pushing up daisies. Enter Mark of the Ninja’s excellent level design. Each and every level has a wide range of hiding spots and vents (as well as additional collectibles) for you to seek out and take advantage of. Using these functions, together with the ninja’s tools; smoke bombs, throwing knives, and more, allows you to creatively wreak havoc in a large variety of interesting ways. This diversity helps to keep the game fresh.
Though, it’s important to never underestimate your foes. Many a times did I take a hiding spot for granted, only to be dragged out and blasted on the spot. Noise can be both a blessing and a curse here. Take, for example, killing a guard. You’ll have two ways of doing so, quietly and loudly. The difference to triggering each outcome is that whenever you take-down and enemy, a quick button sequence will ensue and depending on whether or not you successfully execute it, determines the amount of noise your foe will relay when dying.
That said, if a guard spots a dead guard, they’ll either become aware your presence or call for backup, so it pays off to stash any bodies you leave behind. On the other hand, dead guards do come in handy from time to time. There’s no shortage of environmental hazards or traps to contend with, though a well placed stiff can open up a wealth of opportunities. I grew fond of placing a body beneath a trap, attracting the attention of a nearby guard, and then swiftly sending him to a spiky doom shortly after he came by to check out the corpse.
There’s also some traps that fully require the body of a guard to overcome – such as laser fields that will only deactivate when the opposition swings by. Try and go through them and you’re mince meat, however, take a corpse along for the ride and they’ll turn off to give you safe passing – automatically assuming the guard is the one doing the moving. Sadly, life isn’t always plain sailing within. I took issue with the fact that my ninja wouldn’t always cling onto objects that I commanded him to, leading to unfair and unnecessary deaths, frequently.
The most pressing of issues, however, is the game’s few bugs. There are moments within in which you’re playing against a timer; such as waiting for a door to open. I found that when I died in these sections, the timer would get caught in a loop that falsely tells me when said door has actually opened. There’s also an issue with the checkpoint system, being that on three occasions, my auto-checkpoint had saved just as I was about to die – forcing a complete level restart as a result. Moments like this are massively irritating, to say the least.
With those few issues to the side, there’s very little to scoff at here. The game will regularly toy with your skills, your reflexes and your split-second decision making. How you go about it (and with what of the many tools that you use) is entirely up to you. Your score is tallied up at the conclusion of each level, with rewards handed out based on performance and completion. There’s certainly replay value to be had here, seeing as though it’s necessary to run each level a few times to earn big, which again, only bolsters Mark of the Ninja’s design.
On the visual and audio front, Mark of the Ninja looks and sounds magnificent throughout. From each and every gory death sequence, right up the ambiance and the theme of every stage, Mark of the Ninja will only serve to please. It’s fair to say that if you’re on the market for a new stealth game that affords you a good degree of freedom to play as you see fit, this is a worthy choice. It’s far from perfect, but there’s no denying whatsoever that it’s a great game. It’s deep, thoroughly entertaining, challenging and above all else, it’s pretty unique.
Mark of the Ninja: Remastered takes an already compelling, much loved stealth adventure, and makes it better looking than ever before. Even now, several years from its original release, the game stands as a shining example of the concept that it adopts. Everything from its gorgeous multi-tiered level design to its fluid in-depth gameplay, collectively offers one hell of a challenging and robust journey.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.