• Maina Chen

Strike from the Shadows

I'm not the best assassin, but I decided to play a stealth game anyways. The whole endeavor made me lose my temper many times but I stuck with it and I loved the journey. Here's to another article/review.

Mark of the Ninja is Klei Entertainment’s action, stealth, side-scrolling video game, published by Microsoft Studios and released for the PC on October 16, 2012. The plot starts with a brutal attack on the Hisomu ninja clan, where the protagonist wakes after receiving an intricate irezumi-style tattoo. Titled as the champion that will defend the clan’s honor, the nameless ninja takes on the role as a protector and a vanquisher. When he receives these marks, his only option is to continue, as he becomes strengthened with an immense power to take on any enemy that stands in his way.

But of course, like in most strength-enhancing deals, there is a catch. Every champion before, in what the nameless ninja’s sensei (Azai) tells in, “The Story of the Ink,” no one who has received the mark lives. These champions in their pinnacle of power eventually fall and become mindless, bloodthirsty monsters bent on killing anyone around them to satiate their bloodlust and their madness. This gives the player a good look into what sort of hero you’re going to be: the one who fights and lives or the one who is fulfilling his tragic martyr destiny.

In this venture, you play as a nameless ninja with a modern take on old traditions. The game has an impressive storyline to back its gameplay. It’s not a mindless hack-and-slash adventure that relies on brute strength. No, this game takes on the role of strategy and precision, in how you maneuver through each level. It stresses the importance of remaining hidden or else you’ll die a horrific death when caught.

As a 2D platformer, there aren't controls that are too hard to understand, with its basic WASD keys and mouse control. The only thing to keep note of are the number keys for which skill you'll want to use, and check out the cooldowns, or the time it takes for the skill to recharge, to load up again.

The acclaim this game has gotten is all done for a good reason, and a part of that goes toward its art direction. Whenever a story of the past is recalled, the art takes on more of a somber tone with brushstrokes resembling ink washes onto parchment paper. The characters become black silhouettes and take on exaggerated movements that look like they’re constantly shifting from one motion to the next.

"The Story of the Ink"

For the present, the cutscenes make for a comic book style, boasting a charm of its own. The images are crisp and clear-cut in how each character fits into their specific archetypes like, the wise teacher, the strong companion, or the tens of like-minded drones blocking your way. The game is by no means something that should be a passing afterthought. It has received critical acclaim since its launch, with aggregators showing scores of upwards to 90% or more on Metacritic (90/100) and GameRankings (90.44%).

As a writer and a nerd, I’m compelled to give bonus points to the unlockables, or the extra content made available by the player’s actions. The game itself is detailed in its own world-building that I’m pleasantly surprised at some of the extra objects stashed around each level: namely, the hidden scrolls. In each scroll encountered, a series of haikus are read by the “voice of the Hisomu.” This narrator takes on a soothing calm yet strong voice that draws in the player with each spoken word. There’s an art to this manner of storytelling. It doesn’t go through a straight sequence of events like in a cutscene, but takes a moment in the midst of sleuthing and high tension for a few seconds of tranquility.

Another round of bonus points to the music and sounds in this adventure. The thudding drums in the background really set the mood of a hit gone wrong, and got my heart pounding to the beat as I tried to escape and hide in time.

Hunting down the scrolls became one of my main missions in this game, and it was greatly rewarding each time. There were three scrolls per level and in one of those three, there would always be a challenge gate. In these challenge gates, the puzzles and laser traps made me work for the scroll and crave for the reward at the end. Nothing about it was unfair or impossible to do, because I had to use all the knowledge and skills I amassed to get through it.

The way the nameless ninja is continuously getting these tattoos was such a smart way of introducing new game mechanics and features. Each tattoo he gets grants more powers and combined with the style or path that I chose, I was able to get through even the trickiest setups in the shadows.

The only issue I have dead-set about it is that it is in fact, a stealth game. There’s nothing incredibly flashy with the way you slip past guards or go for assassinations. One clean cut through the stomach and around the neck is the extent of what you can expect to happen. Sometimes you’ll be able to daze an enemy or go about terrorizing them with the “Path of Nightmares,”  and through the way you strategized the kill. Regardless, if you’re more of the “run-up-to-the-enemy-and-hit-them” type, then this game is sorely not for you. There’s a great deal of patience about how you play and unfortunately, what that means is that you’re going to end up in a situation where you have to properly time your strikes or your appearances, or else you’ll end up respawning at the checkpoint.

Path of the Nightmares–one of my favorite stances.

As someone who is the “run-and-hit” type, I had an immensely hard time trying to get through this game without dying a million times in the process. Take my advice and recognize that patience is key and don’t rush (unless there’s a time limit). If I can do it so can you. Take up the sword and become the nameless ninja of legends.

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