Given today’s marketplace it’s almost hard to believe that Microsoft used to be at the forefront of console Indies through Xbox Live Arcade, which dropped quality content onto its service week after week, easily lapping what Sony was doing on the PS3. One of the standouts from that time was Klei’s Mark of the Ninja, an excellent side-scrolling stealth game released in 2012.
Now, six years later, the game is getting a fresh coat of paint as Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, and in addition to an updated release on Xbox One, it’s also gracing the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch for the first time. Even in the midst of gaming’s busy season, we couldn’t pass up a chance to embark on a little ninja action once again.
We played both the XB1 and Switch versions, focusing most of our efforts on the latter as a handheld, and we found it felt more natural on the XB1. It still handles capably on the Switch, but the small shoulder buttons felt a little unwieldy when trying to move quickly through sections. Context-specific prompts where one button handles multiple functions is a legacy issue from the original release and continues to be the source of occasional frustration.
Klei’s angular characters and cel-shaded style have been re-exported for full 4K resolution, making an already good looking game absolutely pop off the screen. Whether skulking through the shadows with the camera pulled back or when it automatically zooms in for a brutal kill, Mark of the Ninja looks and animates beautifully.
Of course, the full 4K treatment is only available on the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, whereas the Switch version outputs at 1080p when docked. In portable mode, that’s scaled down to 720p, and the game unquestionably loses some of its luster visually — it’s also exceedingly dark when playing it on the go. If graphics are a big selling point you’ll probably be happier with the XB1 or PS4 versions.
Voice acting is surprisingly good here. There isn’t a ton of dialogue, but what’s present is capably handled. Mark of the Ninja’s score is subdued and properly fits its stealth-oriented theme while the sound effects are well done.
Some high-tech baddies have decided to attack your clan, and history tells us that picking a fight with a bunch of ninjas is never a good idea. In this case, though, it falls on just one member of the clan to fight back. Given special tattoos that grant exceptional abilities, this ninja exacts a terrible retribution on his enemies. That ninja is you.
There’s a catch, however, as these tattoos slowly drive the user insane. Thus, the cost of this power is that he must do the honorable thing and kill himself before descending into a world of hallucinations and madness. It’s an interesting twist on a tried-and-true revenge story even if many will likely pay little attention to the why and focus on the how.
Mark of the Ninja is designed around stealth. Your default movement speed is very deliberate, and your sword can only be used during assassinations triggered when your target is unaware or dazed. This is not a hack n’ slash where you face a half-dozen enemies at once or battle hand to hand. Your foes carry guns, your health is limited, and caution is of utmost importance.
Levels feature all sorts of vents and passageways to gain the upper hand on patrolling guards or even avoid them entirely. You’ll utilize the environment to divert their attention, set traps for easy kills or even display dead bodies to terrorize them. A lot of thought went into giving you a variety of ways to deal with enemies and situations, and Mark stays fresh from beginning to end as a result.
While the game is full of moments where you’ll delight in setting up enemies for elaborate kills, there are times where the A.I. gets in the way. Foes can alternatively be clairvoyant and oblivious, spotting you when it seems impossible one minute and standing a few feet away while you murder another guard the next. As good as the game is, occasional frustration is a reality.
Each level features a set of challenges consisting of three hidden scrolls, three objectives (such as traversing a building without being spotted or stuffing X number of guards into dumpsters) and three point thresholds. Complete a challenge and you’ll earn a medal, which is then used as in-game currency to upgrade your character with things like additional armor, new items, and more assassinations.
In addition to the base game, Remastered includes the DLC Dosan’s Tale, which adds an additional level with unique gameplay elements and items. Most notably, Dosan doesn’t use a sword, so enemies you take down are left incapacitated and can be revived if found by another guard — there are ways to kill them, but it’ll require using the environment. While not particularly robust, it’s a fun addition.
Age has not diminished the excellent design behind Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, and it’s a great buy for any stealth fans that missed this the first time around — and if you bought it on Xbox 360 the XB1 version is free to download.