Tag Archives: ninjas

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Atomic Ninjas

Atomic Ninjas, which is a pretty cool name, one I’m a fan of mostly because I am noodling with a new small comic book about bad ninja-themed jokes, has the most uninspired story. It goes like this: a security guard at a nuclear plant falls asleep on the big red button that one should never, ever push and the planet explodes. However, not all have perished. Thanks to their natural survival instincts, ninjas are mystically altered. And for some reason, they must now fight each other. That’s it. You get nothing more than that to go off of, which is mostly fine considering this is a brawler a la Super Smash Bros. Melee, but c’mon. Try a little harder.

After a quick tutorial with your sensei, an old man who speaks in broken English, your only gameplay options are to have an online match or a local match using friends on the couch or adding in bots to the mix. I tried twice to get an online match going, but it doesn’t seem like Atomic Ninjas has a huge fan base. The game came out in 2013, but it’s one of the newer additions to the PlayStation Plus family of downloads. At one point, someone did join my lobby, and their username had the word Vita in it, but they quickly left after nobody else showed up. Oh well. So it was off to experience this brawler via battling bots.

The main action plays out like this: you and three other players (or AI-controlled bots) are dumped into a somewhat small arena and must destroy each other by flinging them off the limited number of platforms and knocking them into the laser beams on the outskirts. Rinse and repeat, with a few different modes thrown in for good measure, like king of the hill or capture the flag. The premise remains the same, and the focus is always on multiplayer. There are three weapons to use (punch, shuriken, and a force grab to chuck boxes and knock foes back) and three gadgets (grappling hook, wall claw, and rocket-backpack) to help you traverse through the area quicker.

Alas, the action is repetitive and somewhat uninteresting against bots, and the arenas aren’t anything exciting to explore. The ninja costumes you unlock are just that, cosmetic, and don’t really add anything new to the experience. Also. the camera is zoomed in pretty far, which makes figuring out where enemies are a little difficult to discern. Lastly, there’s just not much to do other than what I’ve already described, and the rewards for leveling up are so minimal they might as well not exist at all. Sorry, Atomic Ninjas. Maybe you should have let that massive explosion take you in the end.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Advertisements

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

mark of the ninja earned all seals post

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

mark of the ninja perfection ach
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.

Hi, my name is Paul, and I’m a spoiled sneaker

I’ve been spoiled when it comes to sneaking. My latest sleuthing through future Detroit in Deus Ex: Human Revolution has definitely proved this. Mostly because I keep getting spotted by enemy units.

In Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake had his Soliton radar at his disposal, right from the word hide. This showed enemy positions and vision cones, as well as outlines of boxes or trucks or barriers; it only became unusable during alert, evasion, and jamming phases, but otherwise, it was a great way to know who was where and how to get around them, either by crawling on the floor or making one’s way under a table.

In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, we have a similar radar, now circular and in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, but serving the same purpose. Sometimes it can get cluttered with a hundred and five icon markers, but otherwise, it has enemies in red and shows them clearly coming after/looking for you. Oh look, a hiding spot there, there, and there. Sneaking made simple. Thanks, handy radar!

In Grinding Down fav The Saboteur, we have another circular radar, now in the lower left-hand corner, with red dots for Nazi soldiers. You couldn’t really assess their walking patterns, but you could see just how many threats were in a size-able area stretching several buildings and streets, and that was pretty vital when trying to breach an occupied location.

In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, if you kept crouched and remained in the shadows, you could totally skirt detection. There were also some handy items like Stealth Boys and armor like the Chinese stealth armor, also known as the Hēi Guǐ, which basically guaranteed safety through patrolled sections. Increasing your Perception skill and having ED-E by your side would help detect enemies at greater distances, making it all the more easy to avoid ’em to begin with, especially Deathclaws and Cazadors.

However, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, if Adam Jensen really wants to know where his enemies are and how far they can see and where they are looking and what their walking patterns are…well, we have too purchase it through an augmentation upgrade, and even then, it takes a few Praxis points to get things back to what I’ve come to know and expect in a radar. See, totally spoiled. Right now, I just unlocked the “cones of vision” augmentation, which helps a wee bit, but not enough to make me a true futuristic ninja. I am constantly getting spotted. All I have is a radar of dots, a handful of specks that do not make sense to me. To better hide, I need to fully upgrade three augmentations:

  • Radar System: Track enemy and friendly troops, turrets, cameras, and robots.
  • Infolink: Communicate discretely on the battlefield.
  • Stealth Enhancer: Provides stealth-related information and allows Jensen to mark and track enemies.

Yeah, too bad I didn’t understand this from the get-go, and I spent some points elsewhere, slowing true ninja progression to a crawl. Naturally, I’m trying to go through all of Deus Ex: Human Revolution in a kind and caring way, not killing a single soul (though from what I’ve read, boss battles have to end in death, mine or theirs), and so sneaking through enemy-infested buildings is my main path, but it’s hard when one has run out of tranq darts and keeps getting spotted by a guy halfway across the room, a dot that did not even pop up yet on Jensen’s radar. Hopefully things get easier with upgrades, but who knows if the game’s even sneakable for much longer.

If only I hadn’t been so coddled over the years…

REVIEW: Mini Ninjas

Developer/Publisher: IO Interactive, Magic Pockets/Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros.
Platform: PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Mac OS X
Genre(s): Action-adventure, stealth
Mode(s): Singe player
Rating: ESRB: E10+
Time clocked: Around five hours

Ninjas never have it easy. Not even mini ones.

See, many moons ago, an evil samurai warlord was banished after too many evil deeds, and the empire in feudal Japan sat in peace and tranquility for a good, long while. But we all know that could only last so long; dark storms began to brew over distant mountaintops, floods and earthquakes became common happenings, and mysterious figures were caging wild animals for unknown purposes. Guess who’s back? Evil Samurai Warlord™, duh.

Growing worrisome, the Ninja Master, the classic relic-old being of supreme skill and wisdom seen in every ninja-related medium ever, sends out his best ninjas to discover the truth about the storms and what evil is stirring nearby. However, none return. With only two ninjas left under his chest-high belt, he reluctantly puts Hiro and Futo to the task of rescuing their friends and saving the world.

And that’s the plot in Mini Ninjas. There’s not much to it; no surprises, no twists, no explanations whatsoever on what these evil soldiers plan to do with all their caged animal friends. As Hiro, you sneak/fight forward until you battle one of the Evil Samurai Warlord’s henchmen, defeat it via a Quick Time Event (sigh), and continue on until the end of the game. The levels are structured as pseudo-open boxes, with multiple paths to explore, but ultimately only one will lead you to its end. A couple cutscenes show the ESW getting mad at his peons, offering a pinch of humor, but other than that, there’s little story being actually told here. Evil is evil, and good is good, and when they throw down arms, good will defeat evil (but only for a limited time).

There are six ninjas to play as, and unfortunately you don’t get the best one until near the game’s end. Each has their own set of skills and uses. Hiro can use Kuji magic and target multiple enemies at once; Futo wields a mallet and rolls into a ball to attack; Suzume plays an enchanting flute song; Shun specializes in bow and arrows, sniping soldiers from afar; Tora is part-tiger and a waste of character selection space; and lastly, Kunoichi, the spear wielder, is the best ninja next to Hiro thanks to her far reach. Each ninja is adorably designed, and unlocking them in-game rewards you with a special bonus video to watch that shows how they arrived at the Ninja Master’s dojo. These are so beautifully animated that it is jarring to the in-game’s visuals, which are, well…maybe a centimeter above the Nintendo Wii. My personal favorite character trailer is, not surprisingly, Kunoichi’s, as shown below:

Unfortunately, the challenge to save the world is no challenge at all. I started my playthrough on medium difficulty, the standard as it were, but switched to hard by midway through and found there to be little difference. The only time I ever died was when I miscalculated a ledge jump and plummeted down the abyss; only I didn’t actually die, but rather respawned on the ledge with one less heart to my name. So, uh, guess that doesn’t count. The enemies are not very tough, and only a couple require a specific strategy, such as the big guys or the stealthy ones. Plus, the alchemy here allows one to make a ton of healing potions, and there’s always a tree or bush of fruit at arms’ length. No worries, really.

What Mini Ninjas is though is charming and stylish, but a bit bland. Co-op (both local and online) is missing, and that’s a shame because it’s clearly a videogame designed to be played by parents and their kids. It would’ve been awesome for one player to scout ahead and another to circle around until the signal sounded and then they both attacked at once. I loved the tranquil music and style of it all, but found myself moving through it very fast, as well as a bit disappointed. The boss battles are a smelly joke, and yes, Boss Windy Pants, I’m talking mostly about you. I’d probably be even more disappointed if I shelled out $60.00 for this when it was first released, but I got this copy for around $20.00, and so it was a decent filler, a mediocre platformer, and a healthy reminder that not all good things come in small packages.