Klei, the developer of Shank 1 and 2 have a new game coming exclusively to Xbox Live Arcade this summer. Mark of the Ninja retains the 2 dimensional cell shaded side scroller style of the Shank games but adds in the element of stealth. Now I don’t mean Assassin’s Creed style stealth or other games currently out that let you be a bad ass damage sponge OR a stealthy assassin. Mark of the Ninja is hardcore stealthy, like you can’t pull out your sword to kill someone unless they’re in a position to die kind of hardcore.
The gameplay is fun and engaging and despite being in the stealth genre, faster paced than I was expecting, requiring quick reflexes and even quicker thinking. The graphics are cartoony and stylish but also very contextual. When running, sound rings emmanate from the character to give an idea of how far the sound of footsteps are travelling. Getting around in the levels is easy as well. Running can be noisy, so almost every surface is scalable which makes every rooftop and ledge accessible. The graphics and gameplay go hand in hand as the game is predominately black. The only time things will be in color are if they are in your field of vision or if you enter a lighted area. This means sneaking around in ventilation ducts and peeking through vents is very important to get a feel of surroundings. Being cognizant of everything in the environment is pinnacle to success as a ninja. The smallest sounds can alert others to your presence, even birds. Likewise, sound can also create distractions to guards, allowing for assassinations or sneaking depending on the situation. The best ninja is the one that no one knows is present, so dead bodies can be dumped out of sight, or even used to terrorize guards into shooting eachother by accident.
Although I only had a bit of hands on time with the game at PAX East, what I played was a lot of fun. It certainly was one of the best games I saw at the show. The core concept of Mark of the Ninja is so strong and the follow through was exceptional in the demo. It certainly is shaping up to be a solid downloadable title and should have great replay value. Honor points can be used to unlock and obtain weapons and tools. While no weapon or item will do more damage, they will certainly expand and enhance the options available in order to infiltrate and decimate the defenses of your enemies’ strongholds.