Tag Archives: Mark of the Ninja

Grinding Down’s Top 10 Games of 2018

2018 has certainly been an interesting year, and not just in terms of videogames. I definitely did not complete as many as I have in the past, eventually giving up entirely on my idea to do little drawings to go along with my haiku reviews. For 2019, I’m just sticking with the much-beloved haiku format from the past as I have other art projects to focus on. Still, I played a good amount of games, though many of the games I played don’t really have an ending to find, and that’s okay. Not everything in life needs to see closure.

Some games that almost made my list are as follows: Detective Pikachu, LEGO Incredibles, House Flip with Chip and Jo, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. All four I’ve started and are in various stages of completion, but that’s not why they aren’t included below. I’ll provide a few more details.

Detective Pikachu is super cute, but a little slow-going, especially when you can clearly see the answer to a puzzle miles ahead of hitting it but are forced to go through all the investigative steps beforehand; that said, I’m absolutely stoked to see the movie next year. LEGO Incredibles is, well, not to be punitive, but another LEGO game, with all the pros and cons that come with such a statement. House Flip with Chip and Jo is one of the better free-to-play games on a cell phone, but it loses points for breaking for two weeks after some big update. Lastly, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the Nintendo 3DS is beyond adorable, but I haven’t done too many levels yet, but I love how much replay-ability the levels have, and my need to complete all challenges in each one before moving on is uber strong.

Onwards we march, to my top 10 games of 2018…

10. Harvest Seasons

Look, this game is an idle clicker, so there’s no real story here or magically nifty game mechanics, but I constantly find myself drawn to these experiences because…well, there’s always something to do in them. From upgrading to planning ahead to simply clicking away without caution. Everything you do generally leads to progress, even restarting from scratch. Previously, I fell hard for things like Time Clickers and AdVenture Capitalist, and Harvest Seasons is another good one to have open on my laptop while I’m drawing my comic about colon cancer next to it. I wrote about it over in this post if you want more details on how it works; also, it’s free, and you’ll find a few more freebies in this list because not every free to play game is completely terrible.

9. All Our Asias

In 2018, I played two games from Analgesic Productions, after really enjoying Even the Ocean a couple years ago–specifically All Our Asias and Anodyne. One I was mesmerized by, and the other was fun and challenging if somewhat unclear. In All Our Asias, you are tasked to explore someone’s mind and discover their secrets in a surreal, PlayStation 1-like world. The story covers heady topics like father-son relationships, Asian-America, and race. I can’t say I related to everything going on here, but it was nonetheless fascinating to explore and see unfold. A lot of games come out now that try to callback to the PS1 or SNES/NES days, but none have been as successful at capturing the tone and feel of a time long gone as All Our Asias. It’s spooky and haunting in a way that a game drenched in fog, like the original Silent Hill, can only be. It’s not a horror game, but it leaves a mark in your memory. Once again, this is a freebie on Steam, so I highly recommend you give it a go.

8. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle

Puzzle games are probably the genre that most get under my skin, often making me feel small and stupid. I’d like to think I’m neither, but sometimes my brain just breaks. For example, I only got so far in The Witness because it became too much to grok and hold all those different rule sets inside my head as I moved from one area to the next. However, I can’t stay away from them. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle, the third free-to-play game on my top 10 list so far, didn’t frustrate me too much, most likely because it contains an in-game walkthrough for any puzzle you get stuck on. You play as Jason Voorhees as he goes on his teenager-killing rampage, but you can only move him in so many directions based on the layout of the map. It’s both cartoonish and ultra-gorey, and you are always leveling up, getting new costumes and weapons to use against these dumb-as-bricks kids. For a game all about murder, it’s a lot of fun.

7. Legendary Gary

I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Legendary Gary straight from the developer. I’d been interested in the game from the very start of the year, loving the artwork and unique take on turn-based combat. It didn’t hit every note for me, in the end, but I greatly enjoyed Gary’s fantasy and real-life equivalent adventures, and the soundtrack is simply hypnotic. The fighting is the main meat of the game, but I felt there wasn’t enough of it to really get a grip on how it worked. That said, there was also no grinding needed to reach the end, which I will always appreciate. It’s a rather short, special RPG, with some heavy decisions to make, and I’d love to see a sequel explore more of the fighting and in-game fantasy world.

6. Subnautica

Look, I’ve put a decent amount of hours into Subnautica and still really haven’t left the first main area of the game. It feels a lot like my first go at Dragon Age: Inquisition, wherein it was just hard to leave the starting area of the game because there was so much to see and do. Plus, I’m a teeny tiny bit scared of what else is out there; oceans are deeply unexplored, and if Planet Earth has taught me anything it is that the strangest critters and fish live in the darkest depths. I like that there’s not a ton of hand-holding here, and you have to scavenge what you can to build better gear and upgrades, all of which do push you to explore further and further away from the safety of your crashed pod. I’m considering getting the game on console soon as I’d rather play it there then on my laptop PC which can only just barely run this watery beast.

5. State of decay 2

At some point, I’ll probably just start my camp over in State of Decay 2. I’ve learned more as I played about what should take priority and how to keep everyone happy, but found myself constantly struggling to juggle all the needs and wants and necessities. When I last played the campaign mode, my group of survivors was just barely teetering on the edge of sanity, and I felt like I had explored all the local areas to completion, but didn’t feel confident traveling too far away. That said, the online horde-based mode called Daybreak is a ton of fun, and it also will eventually help with the main campaign by bringing over guns and tech earned by playing multiplayer. It’s not a happy game, but it does a great job of making you understand what it ultimately might take to live through a zombie apocalypse with a bunch of strangers on your side. Maybe.

4. Starlink: Battle of Atlas

I bought the digital version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and that was a good decision. I just don’t have room for more tiny toys, even if they finally do something other than take up space, nor do I think it would be fun to constantly swap out weapons on the fly when I can just pause the game and do it much quicker with a few button clicks. Either way, I still haven’t finished the main campaign as I’m enjoying completing a planet’s long checklist of things to do before moving on to the next world. The flying around and shooting at robots feels great, and there’s plenty to upgrade, from your ship to weapons to mods to your pilot’s super ability. Progress is always being made, and the story and characters are a lot of fun. I’m excited to see where everything is going, and there are a bunch more planets yet to explore to my heart’s content.

3. Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

I only recently got into the original Spyro the Dragon games after purchasing digital copies on my PlayStation 3 a couple years ago. It took me a bit to get through the first and second game, and by the time I was working on the third game…a full remake of all three titles was announced. So I stopped and waited patiently, and my patience was greatly rewarded. Sure, not all is perfect, like some difficulty in the boss fights, every single flying-only level, and the fact that we are missing subtitles in the year twenty-eighteen, but the game is still a joy to play. Collecting gems, eggs, orbs, and freeing dragons is still beyond satisfying, and seeing some hidden off to the side or up on a cliff and figuring out how to get there is pure joy. I’ve already re-beat the first two games, even getting 120% in the original Spyro the Dragon for the very first time, and I’m working hard to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

2. Mark of the Ninja: Remastered

I loved the original Mark of the Ninja, and I loved the remastered version I got for free for purchasing the original game years ago. It’s pretty much the same game, with some cleaned up art/cutscenes and a piece of DLC I never got to play, so for me, it was great going back into this world of stealth and stabbing and relearning all the tools and tricks to make it out alive. Melanie and I especially enjoyed going for all the seals that required a lot of points, figuring out how to milk the most out of a kill by hiding the bodies or throwing them into a group of unsuspecting guards. It became a game within a game, and I popped all the Achievements except for the one that wants you to play it all over again via New Game+. Maybe one day down the road I’ll take that challenge on, but for now…I’m good. I’m a good, little ninja-man.

1. Fortnite Battle Royale

Shortly before being admitted to the hospital in July and discovering I had cancer, I bought the Battle Pass for Fortnite Battle Royale. I figured, at that point, I had played enough of its truly free mode to warrant such a decision. Also, you can totally earn enough V-bucks playing the game to purchase the next season’s Battle Pass, so long as you don’t blow it all on costumes, dances, or strange emotes.

The weekly challenges, along with the daily missions, really made playing the game more fun, as I was terrible–and probably still am–at building and shooting. However, I can totally open seven ammo crates in a single match or dance in specific locations like it is nobody’s business, and even my fiance Melanie got into the action. By action, I mean doing a lot of the non-combat missions, but it became something we contiguously worked on together, and was a joy to come home from chemotherapy with new tasks to polish off, all while earning new outfits and such.

One thing that I have grown to appreciate in Fortnite Battle Royale over PUBG is how often it takes risks, tries out new modes or weapons, and generally isn’t afraid to mix things up. It keeps the game feeling fresh. I don’t love every mode, but it is comforting to know that nothing lasts forever. Still, please, Epic, bring back the 50 versus 50 mode. I need it like woah.

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Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is stealth perfection, once more

I loved Mark of the Ninja, back when I played it in late 2012, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the game via the recently released Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, which, thanks to Klei, was given out for free to owners of the original title. Y’know, like me. Honestly, I had no idea this was even a thing that was happening; one day, I was skimming through my list of “ready to install” on the Xbox One, as I’m wont to do, and I saw a new icon there for it. Consider me tickled pink and pleased.

What makes this version remastered? I’m not exactly sure. Evidently, there was a bit of “Special Edition” DLC released for the game way back in the day that added a flashback level and new play style, but I didn’t even know that existed, and Mark of the Ninja: Remastered comes with that included. Oh, and there’s also some developer commentary nodes to discover as you play, of which I read every single entry as I find the behind-the-scenes stuff really interesting, especially when the devs are talking about limitations or coming up with unique solutions to problems. I believe this new version also features high-resolution art and improved sound, but it kind of looked, felt, and sounded like the same game to me.

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered‘s story remains the same, so I’ll touch on it only briefly. Our unnamed ninja protagonist–y’know what, let’s refer to him as Larry Ninja from this point forward–is resting after receiving an extensive irezumi tattoo, but is suddenly awakened by a female ninja named Ora. A heavily armed force is attacking the dojo of the Hisomu ninja clan. After gathering up his equipment, Larry Ninja is able to defeat these attackers and rescue his sensei, Azai, as well as several other members of the clan. Then it is off to the races, to take revenge on a corporation called Hessian, run by a ruthless Eastern European plutocrat named Count Karajan.

Dosan’s Tale is the DLC I never experienced during my first go with the game. It’s a flashback level to the early life of Dosan, the tattoo artist for Larry Ninja, which sets the stage for the events that transpire in Mark of the Ninja. It offers a different play style with new, nonlethal takedowns, as well as two new items, one geared toward stealth and the other one being more direct. It’s not terribly long, but it is enjoyable and fun to play a different way; I was mostly a mix of lethal and nonlethal during my two playthroughs, and only focused on being truly stealthy while going back to levels to get all the scrolls, seals, and challenges. The dust moths are pretty neat, and you can use these additional items in the main game’s levels too, opening up additional ways to deal with guards and spotlights and snipers, oh my.

Look, I don’t want to sit here and just rehash whatever I’ve already said about Mark of the Ninja, but it truly is a fun game to play, even when you goof up a stealth section yet manage to come out of it alive thanks to the game’s tight controls and variety of items or options to silence all the guards and barking dogs. My favorite tactic this second time around was using poisoned darts to make guards panic, shoot their co-workers, and then take their own life. Naturally, this helped me get through tons of sections where I just hung to a wall in the shadows and watched the chaos unfold for mega bonus points. I also found myself learning how to hide bodies better to the point that I considered becoming a ninja myself, a true covert agent from feudal Japan. I even went the extra mile to pop every Achievement but one because I’m not interested in doing a new game plus playthrough where things get even tougher for Larry Ninja.

If you already played Mark of the Ninja and found it to be just fine, you probably don’t need to double dip. However, I really enjoyed going back to Klei’s well-designed world, and stealth-killing a guard, stringing him up to a light-post, and watching his friends freak out never gets old. If you have yet to experience the fun that I just described, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of Mark of the Ninja: Remastered.

Be stealthy or be deadly or even both in Super Ninja Slash

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Something is happening to me lately, and I’m not sure if I should fight it or just sit down and embrace it: I am moving away from mainstream titles. Sure, sure, I recently burned through BioShock Infinite, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time playing browser-based indie gems like Kingdom Rush and unknown point-and-click adventures like Patchwork and under-the-radar SRPGs like Fire Emblem: Awakening. Well, one could totally probably argue that, with the latest in the series, Fire Emblem has reached it big time. But whatever, I am digging a lot of freeware titles as of late. Which brings me to the latest freebie title I’m enjoying: Super Ninja Slash.

Created as “another game jam game” by Kyle Pulver and with music by Danny Baranowsky, Super Ninja Slash clearly takes inspiration from the not-so-surprising success of Mark of the Ninja, the XBLA title that, in one swoosh, seemingly redefined the stealth genre. Based on its name, you’d think it was a straightforward slice-and-dice action game in the vein of many SNES romps, with you taking down enemies left and right thanks to your untouchable ninja skills. Well, sure, you can do that if you want, but the main goal of the game’s nine levels is to reach the exit alive. You can either avoid guards or, so long as you are quick enough, take them out with a single slash. Other pitfalls include holes in the floor and electrified barriers.

The game looks rather retro, but moves surprisingly smoothly. You can double tap the arrow key to give the ninja a speedy boost, and he/she can wall-jump, though sometimes jumping from a wall to another platform is a little clunky as you have to hold an arrow key in one direction and then hit another as you jump to change directions. Orange-colored guards carry flashlights, which represent their vision cones, and getting spotted once is an instant kill. I appreciate the swift violence they drop on the ninja once alerted. Again, if you can jump and swing your sword fast enough, you can take out some guards. I’ve been doing a bit of both; some levels I snuck through completely unnoticed, and others I had to take out a guard or two to make the path a little easier to tread.

I got up to level 8 (of 9) during my first stint with Super Ninja Slash, but had to close out for work-related reasons. I kind of wish that, just like in Kingdom Rush, local progress data was still saved somehow, but I won’t mind replaying the levels again too much as it is all training for the later, more difficult parts. The website even keeps track of who is the fastest ninja, the deadliest, and the most peaceful, though I suspect I’ll never hit the top of any of those lists due to my lackluster keyboard skills, but that’s okay. Ninjas aren’t meant to be seen, anyways.

Perfection is earning all the Seals from every level in Mark of the Ninja

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Well, this certainly didn’t happen over night, but it finally happened nonetheless:

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Perfection (15G): Earn all the Seals in every level.

For those that don’t know, Seals are basically optional objectives, and there are three for every level in Mark of the Ninja. Some require you to reach a specific spot within a certain time limit and others are more tricky, requiring restraint and patience. Such as the last one that I got to unlock the above Achievement, which tasked our ninja friend with pickpocketing two keys instead of killing the guards holding them and taking them from their sliced up bodies. Well, that’s how I did it my first time through, but going the stealthier route forced me to move more slowly and be very aware of my surroundings. Which is fine, because this game is so dang rewarding, making one feel like he or she really is the shadow in the night, the hand from the darkness, the unseen that moves like the wind.

In the end, none of the Seals were too painful to get, just time-consuming. I tried to get what I could during my first playthrough of Mark of the Ninja, but due to tiny text syndrome, my bad eyes, and an iffy font choice, I had a hard time reading most of the instructions. So I skipped a lot of Seal tasks or just plain missed doing something because I didn’t know it could be done. And so, long after the fact, I did something I haven’t done in a while and don’t do often just from a sheer dislike in following along instead of figuring things out on my own: printed out a checklist from an online guide. The last time I did this? Hmm. Probably the alchemy recipes for Dragon Quest VIII. Well, I also began to record some item collecting in Borderlands, but that fizzled out fast as soon as Borderlands 2 dropped. Regardless, it really helped a lot to know exactly what tasks were in each level beforehand and then cross them off as I accomplished them.

Still working on completing all the Challenge Rooms, finding all the hidden haiku thingies, earning all upgrades for the ninja, and acquiring a ranking of three stars for each level. Yeah, all those tasks–at once. I’m pretty close on each of ’em, but it’s a slow creep, with constant checking and sometimes having to replay the entire level to make ends meet. After this, all that’s left for me to experience in Mark of the Ninja is a New Game+ playthrough, which I’m hesitant about doing. I like to pretend I’m a great ninja, but truthfully, I’m great ninja because of all the systems already in place; remove those, and I’m just a dude in a funny costume hopping off walls like a madman. At least, that’s what I suspect. I’ll probably give it a try, but if the early levels prove troublesome, then there’s no way I’ll get through the final ones on my skills alone.

Smart, smooth stealth action in Mark of the Ninja

As frustrating as they can get, I love stealth-based videogames. It probably all began, to no one’s surprise, with Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation 1 back in the late 1990s. As Solid Snake, a real grunt of a guy, you had to sneak through a nuclear weapons storage facility on Shadow Moses Island, which has been attacked and overtaken by a group of terrorists known as FOXHOUND. The terrorists have taken two hostages: DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker. For me, gameplay was fundamentally different than anything else I had thus experienced on my PlayStation 1 and SNES before it. Your goal was to avoid detection, as much as possible. And when you did, after much crawling under things, pressing your body against walls, and creeping down the line under a cardboard box, you truly felt like king of the castle.

Other games did this as well. Tenchu, which holds the honor of being the first 3D stealth game, lets you run along rooftops and use a grappling hook to get around enemies. With the use of certain Plasmids, one could totally be a sneaky sneakster in BioShock–though not for all scenarios. And from what I’ve dabbled in with Lone Survivor, hiding from freaky monsters is vital to surviving and up to you to do. Some games though, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Hitman: Blood Money (for the Ps2), were more punishing and less fun.

Mark of the Ninja blows them all away–not with its story, mind you, but how it implements and improves upon the many elements that make up a stealth game. Namely, sound. Everything you do makes a sound, from running to landing on the ground, and the volume of that is measured in a blue ring that you can see right on the screen. If a guard is within the blue ring, he will hear you. Simple as that, but the clear and conciseness of it all works marvelously. Stealth kills are quickly successful if a short button prompt press is won. Cones of vision come right off a guard’s face, leaving behind the map as a constant picture-within-picture mandatory check. You can also easily tell when you are visible and not, depending on whether you, the ninja, is colored in or all in black. And lastly, movement. This ninja is fast and silent, and it shows when you move from one side of the screen to the other so fluidly and without detection.

There are 12 levels in Mark of the Ninja and…no, wait. I guess I should mention the reason why you are going through these levels. Again, the story was a letdown, especially since it did eventually build to a great mystery. Alas, a mystery left for you to unravel in your spare time. Anyways, you are a ninja of the Hisomu Clan, awaken by a mysterious female ninja after learning that the clan village was just attacked by an organization called Hessian Services. Your body is covered in crazy tattoos that are twofold: they give you power, and they also might make you crazy and commit suicide. As you learn more about the attack, friends become enemies, and you then begin a quest for truth. It’s all kinds of mediocre, but towards the middle the story does intensify, and the ending, which is a choice-based thing a la Bastion, did make me pause and actually think before picking. Unfortunately, unlike that previously mentioned game, your choice leads to nothing. Just credits. I was hoping for more confirmation in the end, whether the ninja was crazy or not, but I guess it’s not an answer easily said.

Regardless, the levels are a blast. Each is a puzzle itself, in that you can get through them all without being detected, without killing anyone, or doing a bit of both. There are nine upgrade points to be earned in each level: three are findable scrolls, three are score-based, and three are special challenges to do. I’m currently replaying many of them to find everything, and it is still immensely enjoyable. Two nitpicks are that laser puzzles are annoying, and that some areas are really dark, forcing you to up the gamma on your TV screen.

After beating the Mark of the Ninja, you unlock New Game+, but I don’t think it is something I’ll be able to do. Not now, maybe not ever. Firstly, the sound ring is removed, something which I rely on a lot. Enemies are tougher, too, and there’s a third change that I can’t remember, but it’s probably a doozy. Either way, for $15, this is a great game for fans of stealth, with plenty of things to do once the disappointing story is told. Also, some great and creative Achievements, like freaking out a guard to kill another guard or throwing three different items at once or making a stealth kill from inside a box. Really good stuff.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Mark of the Ninja

Sneak to learn the truth
Are you mad or a weapon
Choose your fate, ninja

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Five things I still need to do in Skyrim

At the same time that I splurged on Mark of the Ninja–more on that fantastic stealth-stabby game later, I promise–I also picked up the second DLC item for the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s called Hearthfire, not Heathfire or Healthfire as I’ve been constantly seeing it misspelled across the Internet in the days since its birth, and it only costs 400 Microsoft Points. The low cost is low because there isn’t actually a whole lot of content in the pack; it basically gives you three spots to build a house of your own, and then you have to grind for materials like iron ingots and nails and chopped wood to actually build it and fill it with items. I’ve only just begun filling my Lakeview Manor with storage barrels and shelves to place my filled grand soul gems. Nothing terribly amazing, and it seems like this kind of Minecraft-esque stuff is better suited for somebody just starting out on their adventure to rid the realm of evil dragons than me currently who already owns a house in two different holds.

But at least I’m back in the game for the time being. Finishing up a few quests while selling some items and emptying my digital backpack of potions I’ll never use–like anything related to breathing under water for X seconds. And so, I got to thinking, and here are five things I’ve yet to do in Skyrim after playing the game as one single character for upwards of 95 hours.

Ride a horse

Look, if you could hop on a horse and ride it in first-person perspective all while still wielding a bow and arrow or sword and magic spell…then yeah, I’d be all for that. I play these Bethesda games in this perspective and this perspective only; moving out of it breaks immersion and really comes across as just goofy and dangerous to one’s safety. But no, if you get on horseback, you must ride in third person, and that’s not for me.

Get married

Haven’t really given it much thought, to be honest. From what I can tell, being married in Skyrim is a bit…old-fashioned. You gain a spouse who makes you food and takes care of your home. Great. Not really. I’m curious to see if I can adopt a child without being married after I finish building my house; if not, I guess I’ll go hunting for a favorable partner. Vex sounds ideal /sarcasm.

Find the Dark Brotherhood

Please note there that I said find, not join. I haven’t even been contacted by them yet, and I guess for that to happen I’d have to openly murder somebody who didn’t deserve it. Like, not a bandit cave leader or blood dragon. Hmm. That’s not really how I play, so it is unlikely this will every happen on my first character. Maybe if I ever roll a new dude, but that might not happen for a long time–if ever. I know, call me crazy. Except you should know I never did many Dark Brotherhood quests in Oblivion either. So there, fantasy murderers.

Learn any spell above the novice level

I’m no Harry Potter, y’all. When I need healing, I use a potion or eat some cheese. When I need to weaken a foe, I poison my arrows and loose them from afar. I’ve done the occasional spell to clear webs or gain entrance into the School of Magic, but that’s been it. Not my style of combat.

Kill a giant

Everybody did it at the beginning of the game. You see some mammoths and head over to check them out. Then a giant comes stomping at you, swings violently with his club, and sends you flying into the sky with one hit. Instant death. Lesson learned. Since then, the only times I’ve come across giants has been in groups of three or four, and I’m scared to take on one for fear of three more seeking revenge. Plus the mammoths, too. So, yeah. All those giant’s toes in my bag? I stole them.

So, those are my things still to do/things to never do in Skyrim. What about you? What have you not done yet in a world that seems to never run out of quests or ways to occupy your time? Catch a butterfly?