Back in the glory days of the Xbox 360, a young Loplop happened to stumble upon a little something special on the Xbox Live store. Being someone who adored all things Japanese and, seeing as I had a borderline obsession with the world of ninjas thanks in no small part to Naruto, a little game by the name of Mark of the Ninja was certainly one that ticked all the right boxes. I vividly remember downloading the game, booting it up and being greeted by the first stealth game I had ever played. As such, I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that when I found out that this little gem had been remastered on the Nintendo Switch, I immediately bought it to relive its joys. Additionally, I needed to know if Mark of the Ninja: Remastered was as good a game as I remembered, or if the nostalgia goggles were blinding me to the truth. Having now completed this game once again, I think now is as good a time as any for another trip down the otaku rabbit hole to check out what makes Mark of the Ninja: Remastered tick, and whether this is one worth checking out. With all of that out of the way, buckle up everyone and let’s get started.
The story opens with the player character, a nameless ninja branded with a mystical, cursed tattoo – the mark of the ninja, arriving home to find that his clan has been captured by a group of military men. After rescuing his clansmen, he sets out on a quest of revenge against the man who orchestrated the whole ordeal, and he will use every ninja skill and item in his ninja toolkit to do so. Along the way, he will need to avoid being detected by an ever-expanding roster of gun-toting enemies who would love nothing more than to pump him full of bullets, and to slaughter anyone who stands in the way of him and his ultimate goal should he be given half a chance.
To achieve his objective, he is gifted with the ultimate secret of his clan, an ancient ink tattoo, used to heighten his senses and efficacy as a killing machine. This power comes with a lofty price, however, as this mark will force the bearer to experience hallucinations and, as time goes on, descend further and further into madness, eventually requiring the ultimate sacrifice from its bearer.
Mark of the Ninja is essentially a cautionary tale, emphasising to its audience how the pursuit of revenge will lead you down a dark and unforgiving road to a far worse fate, and that power always comes at a cost. A fun and relatively well-rounded story that delicately treads the line between the tragedy and brutality of a given scenario, Mark of the Ninja will keep you invested throughout its playtime, and potentially beyond.
The gameplay is a true pleasure to experience. The controls are crisp and responsive, which is exactly what is needed for a game of this genre. Very seldom do you feel as though your failed attempt at a given action is due to poor controls or poor design, as the controls are intuitive enough that even newcomers can execute some truly impressive actions and kills. You play through one level at a time, fulfilling objectives while killing enemies and avoiding detection. While a simple concept at its core, where this game shines is with the staggering layer of polish and love that’s been layered on it.
There are many different routes a player can choose between on their path to completing a level. The easiest of these will usually involve an aggressive playstyle, killing all who get in your way in a no-holds-barred bloodbath. This option, while fun and enjoyable, is far from the only way to play. As would be expected, focusing on stealth by killing no-one, passing through as if you were never there is also an incredibly valid (and at times essential) option for playing through Mark of the Ninja. In many ways, this could be considered the “hard” mode, as guards are often placed in locations that would naturally hinder your progress, and killing is often seen as the quick and easy way out. For those in search of the ultimate challenge – a no-kill run, don’t despair, as there are a plethora of tricks and tools at hand to help you through.
Environmental distractions are highly abundant and scattered throughout every level. Bells, crows and lights all have the ability to generate noise and distract your foes. When coupled with environmental hazards, these environmental aids can seriously help you through some of the tougher areas of the game, be that in distracting guards long enough to slip by unseen, or in killing anyone and everyone in your path. These items are literally everywhere and, in a stroke of genius, an item that may have been initially designed to hurt you, can easily be turned on your enemies, often to spectacular effect.
You are equipped with a range of tools, each with their own unique role and function. These range from distraction tools like smoke bombs, to killing tools like the spike traps. Items are unlocked slowly but steadily as you progress, so you’ll be given ample opportunities to try them all and then tailor your gameplay experience to a style that suits you.
In addition to the expansive selection of items at your disposal, it is also possible to change your costume, or “path”, to further streamline your experience to suit your personal playstyle. These suits all have their own distinct set of advantages and disadvantages, ranging from limiting your item pool to a certain item category, to removing the ability to slow time when focusing – a key and often underappreciated aspect of the game. While these drawbacks may sound tough, they’re only optional, and if you want the most well-rounded experience, I would highly recommend you play through on the default (Path of the Ninja) on your first playthrough to find your own style, and then mix it up in a later playthrough.
There are also scrolls, an optional set of collectibles, scattered throughout the levels. In each level, there are three scrolls to be found, with two being found somewhere on the map, and the third will usually be locked behind a puzzle section you will need to overcome. The scrolls add another level of optional challenge to these levels, acting as the perfect measure of skill. I always found it incredibly satisfying to overcome one of these puzzles and work out what I needed to do to reach the scroll.
Finally, in what I can only describe as a perfect move in game design, death will never truly mean game over. Dying in-game will simply re-set you at your last checkpoint. As there is an incredibly generous checkpoint system in Mark of the Ninja, you’ll never feel as though your progress was lost and your time spent on a given area was in vein.
Additions to the remastered version
The biggest addition to the remastered version is the inclusion of the Dosan’s Tale DLC. In it, you play as the tattoo artist, Dosan, in his younger days and learn the origin of the ink used in the mark worn by the main protagonist. A short and sweet reprieve from the main story, this is definitely a worthy addition, offering a different way to play while giving you access to some new items for you to try out. While I never personally gravitated towards the light-blocking moths, the attack item (the fungal spores) was immediately added to my build in the core game. If I had one complaint about the items in this pack, it would be that they are far more potent than some of the items you get in the main story, so can easily become the new go-to after unlocking them.
Upon completion of Dosan’s Tale, you also unlock a new path in the main game, and a new way to play – non-lethal. This allows you to knock out your opponents, incapacitating them for a short while and allowing you to progress towards a no-kill run of a level, without having to fully surrender the aggressive playstyle.
Now, while I have sung the praises of this game, there are a few slight drawbacks that hinder the overall experience and can definitely contribute to a few annoyed play sessions. The mechanics of Mark of the Ninja don’t always mesh in the way I would have liked and were frustrating to have to fight against. On the very, very rare occasion, I found that my stealth kill input wouldn’t register, meaning that the guard would be hit by a melee attack, triggering an alert where I would die. Admittedly, the death would reset my progress to just before the failed stealth kill, so I wouldn’t lose my no-detection run, but it was still a pain. This is one of the very few issues that this game has. However, there is one other slight issue to detract from the overall experience.
The biggest issue I found in my playthrough was the item balancing. Certain items are considerably more overpowered than others. The smoke bomb and fungal spores, in particular, make for a very potent combination that will annihilate foes and keep you safe and hidden at almost all times.
Despite this, the item balancing gets far worse in the later levels. Later in the game, you gain access to another skill thanks to the power of the mark. While I won’t spoil what this power is, this ability becomes a prominent aspect of the gameplay and will dominate your playstyle. This is something I found myself relying on more and more in the last few levels as it completely breaks the balance of the game. But, while it is a vital part of some levels and not using it would stop your progress dead in its tracks, you don’t HAVE to use this ability as the go to in other circumstances. In fact, after my experience, I would strongly suggest you avoid doing this as it will make the game significantly less challenging and may detract from your overall experience.
Music and overall sound effects are a rare commodity in Mark of the Ninja, but that is a definite feather in the cap of this game. Sound and keeping a low-noise profile are key aspects of the game and are implemented seamlessly into the core gameplay, so a greater focus on ambient noise is a perfectly logical fit. Your footsteps and those of your enemies are your constant companions, sharpening your focus and attuning you to any unusual noises in the environment. Subtle noise cues and speech are uncommon, being seen as strange or alien, but they stand out all the more as a result. The use of this silence is amazing, building a tense and overbearing atmosphere that, honestly was something I absolutely adored.
Music does appear from time to time, but again, these tracks are scarce. Short sound clips play when you’re discovered by enemies, or at certain checkpoints. This really drives home how loud noises are dangerous within the setting of the game. As a player that has been conditioned during the playthrough to keep noise to a minimum, the occasional loud and frenzied music was jarring – driving the player into a panic to escape back into the shadows where they’re safe. All of the subtle nuances within the sound design help elevate this game to ever-greater heights and is understated yet expertly implemented in every way.
To sum up my playthrough of this game, it was not as good as I remember – it was better! Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is easily one of the finest examples of a 2D stealth game I have ever played and is deserving of a tremendous amount of respect and love. This is one of those rare games that redefines a genre and is one that all future games of its kind should aspire to. Considering all its incredible aspects and its trivial detractors, I award Mark of the Ninja: Remastered…
With that, everyone, I thank you all for joining me on this week’s trip down the otaku rabbit hole. I really hope you enjoyed your time here. We’ll be back again next week with more otaku goodness for all of you to enjoy. Until next time, though, keep it weeby!