Tag Archives: Mark of the Ninja

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.

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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?