Mark of the Ninja: Remastered (Switch eShop) Review
Originally released in 2012 across Xbox 360 and PC, Mark of the Ninja’s incredible design remains one of the best 2D stealth games ever made.
Awakening to the violent sound of gunfire, you play as a ninja whose clan is attacked by armed mercenaries, following which you are tasked with hunting down those behind the infiltration. Along the way, it becomes apparent that the reasoning behind the initial attack is more complex than initially thought. Of most intrigue is the mysterious power of the tattoo you’ve been marked with, which imbues the wearer with great power, but leads to eventual madness. Which makes more sense for the title of Mark of the Ninja than the joke theory my girlfriend suggested that it’s actually meant to be “Mark, the Ninja”, considering we never discover the protagonist’s name.
Mark of the Ninja’s levels are substantial, sprawling tapestries of intricate design, filled with various traps, guards and security measures trying to stop you from reaching your objectives. These objectives range from freeing hostages, sabotaging major security systems, and assassinating key personnel. Although these tasks appear to be a simple “point A to point B” affair, the staggering amount of choice provided by the intricate level design makes completing objectives anything but linear. Nearly everything Mark of the Ninja asks of you has multiple methods to completion. Want to scale the rooftops, avoiding all ground-level hazards? Do it. Feel like sticking to the shadows and using all manner of gadgets at your disposal? Go nuts. Perhaps you’re feeling stabby and want to eliminate all who stand in your way? Sure, if that’s your thing. The freedom to approach Mark of the Ninja your way, at your own pace feels incredibly liberating.
Replayability is a significant aspect of Mark of the Ninja, with each level containing three optional sub-objectives, and a scoring system that assesses your actions. In addition to the core objectives you’ll be working towards, the sub-objectives feel like extra challenges to complete, many of which encourage trying out methods you may previously have neglected. For example, one sub-objective tasks you with breaking into a compound without disabling any lights, cleverly nudging you towards a different play style to keep things fresh. Also, each level is littered with hidden collectible items that yield score bonuses in addition to providing snippets of lore about the ninja clan’s way of life. It’s also great that the scoring does not differ much between non-violent and violent play styles, meaning you are not excessively penalised for playing one way or the other. You’ll earn points for sneaking past guards unnoticed, but you also rack up high scores by taking down foes and hiding their bodies. This way, you’re not frowned upon for whichever method you enjoy playing most. Completing sub-objectives unlocks new costumes for your ninja which enhance particular play styles, and racking up good scores rewards you with points to spend on new abilities, gadgets and upgrades.
Despite always gaining new abilities and wrinkles to the gameplay, Mark of the Ninja provides plenty of satisfying challenge. Every level introduces new foes to encounter, including sniffer dogs who can discover you even when hidden from sight, and tough guards who need to be stunned before being taken down. Like many great games, Mark of the Ninja specialises in continually iterating on a strong gameplay loop. The balance between facing new obstacles and increasing your own arsenal is spot on – you always feel powerful, but not excessively as to make things too easy. Perhaps most pleasing is how damn easy it is to replay sections to execute your plans to perfection. Mark of the Ninja runs brilliantly on the Switch, and reloading checkpoints after a sneak gone awry is lightning quick. It’s also helpful that the checkpoints are plentiful, meaning you’ll never have to replay a huge section after making a mistake.
Excelling in functional visual design, Mark of the Ninja’s graphics play a vital role in sneaking your way around various hideouts. Much like the game’s light and dark themes, much of your approach is governed by using light and shadows to your advantage. When bathed in light, the ninja is shown in full colour, meaning you can be spotted from some distance away. Conversely, when hidden in the safe refuge of darkness, you’ll instead be coated in black. This visual language translates to other characters too, so you can pinpoint what areas are lit up by scouting the colouration of your enemies. Not only this, but the sound is represented visually by way of a translucent blue circle that pulses from the noise’s source. Actions such as breaking lights, sprinting, and a dog’s barking will generate this sound circle, where anyone within range will become suspicious and investigate the surrounding area. Mark of the Ninja’s functional aesthetic, with clever use of colour and interface cues, remains among the strongest and most clever use of intrinsically linking separate game design elements together I’ve seen in any game.
There’s very little I can fault Mark of the Ninja for. To nitpick, some of the sub-objectives can be easily cheesed due to the fact they remain completed even if you die immediately after achieving them. One sub-objective tasked me with taking down three guards in a heavily trafficked area, which I did with reckless abandon, knowing that I would die straight after with no repercussions. For a game with such a strong balance of challenge, this is the only aspect I can recall as flawed. This, and as nicely animated as the characters are, they, alongside the plot, are largely forgettable and feel a bit like caricatures instead of being fully fleshed out.
With plenty of challenge and freedom to play the way you want, Mark of the Ninja’s staying power as one of the best stealth games available is a testament to its incredible design. Packed with all the previously released content, Mark of the Ninja: Remastered on Switch is perfect for first-timers, plus anyone looking for another playthrough.
+ Brilliantly functional visual design
+ Clever level design allows for player freedom
+ Ninja abilities are satisfyingly powerful
- Some sub-objectives can be easily cheesed, eliminating their satisfying challenge
- Characters and plot feel shallow in comparison to gameplay