Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Thirteen

Keep quiet. He’s sliding down the chimney and coming for us! But how did he get to the roof in the first place? Maybe he climbed up the drainpipe or sprinted across the terraces opposite and leapt through the darkness like a silent curse. Maybe he’s not in the chimney at all. Maybe you left a window open, but it’s on the third floor so you’ll be safe, right? RIGHT? Oh cripes, the thirteenth window of the advent calendar is open. He’s probably inside.

It’s… Mark of the Ninja!


Long version: Thief had the visibility gem, an indicator that faded to near-black when the player was in shadow, a means of communicating the safety of the player’s position, swiftly updating, without compromising the first-person perspective. Mark of the Ninja doesn’t have anything quite as simple but it’s a game in which the data of stealth are written on the world.

Anything that could potentially compromise the player’s infiltrations, rescues, robberies and assassinations has a visual tell – noise sends fading pulses into the night, an enemy’s line of sight is marked as a cone protruding from his face, and, like Thief’s gem, people are drained of colour when they step into darkness. Mark of the Ninja has been opened up, like that electric-nosed fellow in Operation, and its nervous system is on display. Tease the wrong element and *BZZZZZZ*.

I’d heard that the game was good before the PC port arrived but I wasn’t convinced. Stealth Bastard (not Deluxe) had already admirably tackled stealth in 2d, interpreting problems of sound and light as self-contained puzzles, but to create a side-scrolling stealth adventure is an entirely different proposition.

When I first played, the view was too close to the characters for my liking. I wanted to survey an area and plan my approach. Then, by the time I’d finished the tutorial, the system had started to make sense. At the end of the first mission I was fully converted.

Mark of the Ninja has the sort of levels that I’d like to see in full, paparazzi long-lens cross-sections of castles and skyscrapers, every room a story and all contributing to a structure with a sense of purpose. They’re the sort of places that magazines would have printed double-spread walkthroughs of when magazines still existed. The annotations couldn’t tell the reader how to succeed though because, beyond the elegance of the interface feedback and the level design, the game’s strongest feature is the variety of approaches that it offers.

The toolset isn’t large. By the end, which came too soon for my liking, you’ll have encountered a few types of enemies, several abilities and devices, and rooms with two or three entry points, corners and crannies. What you won’t be able to do is see everything on a single playthrough because there are choices to make not only in approach but in advancement. Do you want to drop deadly spike traps from a ceiling, or would you rather cloud a guard’s mind with hallucinogenic terror-drugs? Or perhaps travel through the entire game like a ghost, which is what I’m trying to do at the moment, on my second attempt.

There are very few places that punish mistakes with instant failure, although ninjas can’t dodge bullets, but I actually found myself trying to collect as many points as possible on each level. It’s so unlike the way I normally play and being offered carrots for playing a certain way should irritate me, but realising that an accidental killing (the chandelier support just snapped) can be slightly redeemed by dropping the corpse into a drainage pipe is a good thing. Receiving a little high five every time I ditch a body into a vent makes me a jollier ninja.

It’s one of the few games that I want to ‘100%’. I’ll remember that I used that as a verb tomorrow and groan but it’s appropriate even if it is ugly. For all its brilliant setpieces, large and small, Mark of the Ninja is a game first and an experience second. There are near-constant reminders in the visual feedback, the scoring system and the unlocks. ‘Seeing’ footsteps doesn’t need some bullshit NINJASENSES explanation – it’s empowerment and a sort of discourse with the player. That’s enough.

There is a story and it even has magical tattoos (this year’s genetic mutations) but I’m not playing a second time to explore the nuance of the characters. I just want to see how much better I am now that I know more tricks and I want to do everything that it’s possible for a ninja to do.

Short version: I threw a knife that sliced through a rope, dumping a chandelier on a man’s head, flattening him. One of his friends panicked, fell on his backside and started shooting in blind panic, killing everyone else in the room. Except for me. I was still in the rafters, watching and laughing (silently), the happiest ninja in the land.


  1. Lambchops says:

    I’m resisting the temptation to set up a joke account under the name “Why include Mark of the Ninja?”

    • caddyB says:

      I considered that as well, but I didn’t want to call down the wrath of RPS on myself.

      • arleneroberts says:

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    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      Sure it starts out as a joke, but then everyone starts doing it and before you know it we’ve turned into the AV Club message boards.

      • hansbadu says:

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  2. Syra says:

    Brilliant game had me also tensely lurking in the shadows doing my very best not to kill people, then realising quite how satisfying a perfect stealth kill between a few guards can be, when you sneak a body away from right under their cone shaped noses..

  3. Xocrates says:

    Ah, yes, this is a beautifully designed game, ain’t it?

  4. bigjig says:

    Next to Dark Souls, my second favourite game of the year. While the Walking Dead has been getting all the media attention in spite of having extremely lackluster gameplay (although with an admittedly great story), this game’s focus on a pure gameplay experience really deserves the applause. For me the stealth mechanics completely blow Dishonored out of the water, and the game overall is a sheer joy to play – something that really surprised me because I couldn’t really get into Shank.

    • Gorf says:

      I totally agree its a great game, but I also loved Dishonored, (tho it is fair to say I enjoyed the stealth in MotN more),and the two games are too different in their limitations for me to directly compare.

      Anyway its one of my fave games of the year too…..also along with Dark Souls.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      Don’t mind me, just setting up a deck chair here in the Dark Souls/Mark of the Ninja loving area.

  5. obvioustroll says:

    So many indie games…

  6. karthink says:

    2D or not, Mark of the Ninja is the best stealth-action game I’ve ever played.

    (I put the Thief series in a different genre because a game like MotN is primarily about empowerment, about being a vulnerable predator.)

    • Cinek says:

      For me it was rather underwhelming. Once you “follow the path of evil” and try to kill the enemies – it’s as simple as pong. you fly through the campagin… then it becomes tedious and rather boring instead of exiting and you stop playing it.
      That’s my story with this game.
      They shouldn’t give so many options to kill opponents and so many buffs for people oriented on killing stuff without raising alerts… you can be invincible in this game. Almost as crappy as Dishonored for that matter (which also made player invincible after first 2 missions)

      • Schmitzkater says:

        See, what I never quite understood is; why do not just limit yourself in what you do then?

        If the game feels way too easy and therefore boring and tedious for you, why not try to ‘ghost’ your way through? Why not try to use only gadgets, only use melee or other restrictions?

        I’ve been doing this forever, whenever I feel a game gets too easy for me to genuinely enjoy and I really don’t think an arbitrary difficulty slider is necessary for it to work.

        • Saskwach says:

          And that’s really what Mark of the Ninja encouraged you to do. It isn’t about forced difficulty – it’s about letting you feel like a badass on the first playthrough until you pick a (self-imposed) difficulty setting yourself.

          Non-violent runthroughs, or “how many guards can I terrify into killing their friends” or what have you.

        • eclipse mattaru says:

          I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I feel really stupid when I notice I’m doing that, and it doesn’t make the game any better.

          I need the sense of accomplishment of knowing I bested a challenge. If I’m the one imposing the challenge to myself, if I’m crippling myself by not using the tools the game is giving me, if I’m holding back all the time as if I were afraid of treating the game too roughly; then, in my eye, the developer hasn’t done their work properly. If I have to ignore half the stuff the game itself offers me, and I’m basically playing against myself , I might as well be playing Solitaire.

          And, needless to say, when I’m so aware of me-as-a-player treating the game like it’s made of eggshells, anything even remotely close to suspension of disbelief has long since fucked off.

  7. Orija says:

    This year hasn’t really had many good games, has it?

    • Network Crayon says:

      Looks like Samurai Jack by way of Christopher Nolan…

      ..And yet i’m still not interested.

    • Mirqy says:

      Really? This is subjective, as every year I miss a few gems, but I can’t remember a year I’ve bought more games or loved so many that I’ve bought.

    • Oozo says:

      I suppose you could just be trolling, but let me ask you nevertheless: Did you not like most of the games in the calendar so far? (And the obvious ones still coming up?) Or is it your way of saying that you do not agree with the entries and would have put other games on there? If so, which ones?

      (I’m seriously wondering because in my opinion, 2012 was infinitely more exciting than 2011 when it comes to games — I mean, last year, Skyrim was an ok choice for game of the year, but it somehow always felt like… a very good game, but lacking that certain something. While this year, I would have difficulties choosing the game of 2012, because there are a good many worthy contenders. YMMV, obviously. Would be nice telling us about your mileage, though.)

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I would also like to know this, as I agree that 2012 has been really great.

      • Burning Man says:

        Besides Borderlands 2 and Guild Wars 2, I haven’t played any of these games. Excluding Dark Souls, I haven’t even heard of the rest of them.

        In the past, we’ve shared fairly similar tastes…. if nothing I’ve never outright disagreed with the choices on the calendar, so I assume this simply means there haven’t been a great many AAA games.

        I’ve been playing MMOs, so I’m a tad oblivious to it all, admittedly.

        • derbefrier says:

          “I’ve been playing MMOs”

          Theres your problem right there. Hell I am still playing catch up on the games I missed while I was a WoW addict for a few years.

    • Gorf says:

      Definately joking………i think.

    • Totally heterosexual says:

      Naw man, year was fucking great.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      No, what’s happened is that you used to be with it, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what you’re with isn’t *it*, and what’s *it* seems weird and scary to you. I know, it’ll happen to me too…

  8. ShatteredAwe says:

    Thank you RPS! You’re the best! Anyways, that was my immature excitement. Should’ve known better than to whine about it on every Advent Calender post, lol.

    Anyways, it’s a well deserved spot. This game was pretty much my first Side Scroller, and now I’m addicted to them. At first I thought that game would be really boring… but after 5 seconds it turned interesting. It’s a perfect stealth game, and one of the best stealth games I’ve played after the Thief series. Tl;DR, awesome game.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Aw, I was kind of looking forward to your posts about liking to eat dog poo.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      “This game was pretty much my first Side Scroller…”
      ouch, now I feel old

      In fact, in my day we didn’t even have scrolling, you’d just walk off one side of the screen and go to the next, and that’s not even a joke :(

      • Pseudonym says:

        And now I am experiencing flashbacks to the Bruce Lee game from my Commodore 64.

  9. maximiZe says:

    Finely crafted game, I can’t imagine 2D Stealth to be done much better. Not a huge fan of the Bob Morane-style movie bits, but since the gameplay sequences look rather neat that’s something I ignored with pleasure.

    • KenTWOu says:

      I can’t imagine 2D Stealth to be done much better.

      Although the game is challenging even in its current state, it’s still possible to improve AI. That said, it’s always possible to improve AI.

  10. Rictor says:

    I’d like to thank RPS for turning me on to Mark of the Ninja. I bought it during the last Steam sale and am near the end of my first play-through. Great stealth game…hell, great game period! It manages to be both gorgeous and informative, all within the confines of a 2D perspective.

    The animations are top-notch, making your movements through the environment very fluid and nice to behold. I also like that your survivability if discovered is basically zero. I have all the armour upgrades and can still only take 2-5 shots before dropping.

  11. airtekh says:

    This is my personal Game of the Year, tied with Natural Selection 2.

    If you want to know how to make a stealth game, you take a good hard look at this. Absolutely flawless execution from start to finish.

  12. zeroskill says:

    Picked this up recently, I enjoyed it a great deal. Easily the best true stealth game I played since Thief. I also really loved how they implemented the new game plus after you beat the game the first time. This game is highly underrated in my honest opinion.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      I don’t think anyone has underrated it, it had brilliant reviews!

      • bigjig says:

        Maybe underrated is the wrong word. I definitely feel it was overlooked though.

  13. Shadrach says:

    Definitely one of the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year. The possibly only time I was annoyed was one section that had way too many of those laser-puzzles for my taste.

    • wodin says:

      You can usually find a totally different way around them..stick to the roofs if too many laser rooms…

  14. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Another game that I really want to play but can’t because I don’t have the time. This calendar makes me a little sad…

  15. derbefrier says:

    Great game. I would recommend to anyone who loves stealth and side scrolling platformers.

    • KenTWOu says:

      I would recommend the game to anyone who loves stealth. So even if you’re a stealth fan and you hate side scrolling platformers, you should buy this game.

      • Rikard Peterson says:

        How about someone who likes the idea of stealth games, but is a bit rubbish at playing them?

        I’ve only played the very beginning of Thief, up until… there was a bit underground with some ghosts or zombies or something? Possibly the third level or something like that? I should give that game another go, as it’s something that I should enjoy. At least in theory.

        • KenTWOu says:

          Thief has slow paced old school stealth, MotN has fast paced partially offensive stealth. So you’re very fast, you can climb most walls, and even move across certain ceilings. So you can hide more easily in MotN. Especially when you have grappling hook (ala Batman:AA/AC). And the game has lots of hiding spots: trees, vases. vents, garbage cans. It means definitely less frustration than Thief and more friendly stealth but not simplified.

  16. Radiant says:

    This game was ok.
    It certainly wasn’t “the best stealth-action game I’ve ever played!” as the reviews said it was.

    It got samey really fast and I actually got bored of it pretty quickly.

  17. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Haven’t purchased it yet, but I’m looking forward to playing Mark of the Ninja some time in the future. Yay for good games!

  18. strangeloup says:

    To be fair, this is only going by the demo, but I really didn’t like this at all. I may also be biased by the fact that I also thought the Shank games were fucking awful. Something about cartoon graphics and viciously stabbing people doesn’t quite gel, for one thing.

    Eets was pretty decent for an hour or two though.

    (This comment brought to you by the service for Someone Has To Dislike It and searching Steam by developer.)

  19. wodin says:

    Better than Dishonoured…

  20. Kradziej says:

    I love the premise of stealth games, but I’m also bad at them. While playing Mark of the Ninja I haven’t even once thought to myself “oh come on there is no way he saw me!” or something like that, because the game told me every single thing I needed to know about its mechanisms. How far the noise travels, does the enemy see me or not, how far can the enemy see, how much noise dose a certain action make and so on. It sets the rules at the very beginning and sticks to them to the very end.

    Unlike Hitman: Absolution, which I’m playing right now. It’s just frustrating most of the time.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Unlike Hitman: Absolution, which I’m playing right now. It’s just frustrating most of the time.

      Absolution doesn’t translate well its own rules to the player. And tutorial doesn’t work as efficient as it should. That’s why the game has steep learning curve. But when you get all rules, Absolution delivers.

  21. draglikepull says:

    I feel like I must be really missing something with this game, because I just couldn’t get into it. The controls feel sluggish, the combat is bland, and the levels look extremely same-y. I’ve played through maybe 3-4 levels in MotN, and as far as I can tell “stealth” usually amounts to “stay above enemies’ sight lines”. I suppose to a large degree that’s also true of the Assassin’s Creed games and the Batman: Arkham games, but those were both games where movement was highly refined and a joy to engage in, and they were action games with stealth elements rather than stealth games with occasional action.

    The fact that the game is so transparent about its systems also really put me off. To me, the key to a great stealth game is engaging the player’s ability to observe, analyze, and plan. But I didn’t feel like this game required much of any of those things. It was really obvious what you had to do virtually all the time, and it never required much skill to go about doing it.

    Also, the game is just really visually boring. Because of the way they decided to use darkness to indicate stealth, the game looks the same more or less no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Staring at narrow black platforms for hours on end is not my idea of a compelling art style.