Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is a new and improved version of the original game released in 2012 for the Xbox Live Arcade and PC. This edition features numerous visual enhancements, remastered audio, and previously released DLC, as well as two different upgrade options for the owners of the original. For anyone who purchased the game on either Steam or Xbox 360, the price of the remastered version is a mere £3.99. Better yet, if you own the original version and its corresponding DLC, then upgrading is free!
As for the graphical improvements, Mark of the Ninja: Remastered runs at 1080p on both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. On Xbox One S the visuals are further upscaled to 4K, while Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro, and PC (if the hardware allows for it) offer uncompromised 4K support. Lastly, the Switch version runs at 1080p in docked mode and only 720p in portable mode. So, if you wish to experience the game in all of its visual glory on the Switch, then be sure to play on a capable TV set.
Now, what exactly is Mark of the Ninja about? Taking on the role of a nameless ninja, whose body is covered by an empowering tattoo, you must save your master, as well as your comrades, from an attack by the organization called Hessian. After some initial throat-cutting and prowling through the vents, you, along with a female ninja Orza, set out to take revenge on the organization’s leader – Count Karajan. This ruthless magnate has surrounded himself with an army of soldiers, led by Corporal Kelly, and disposing of them all – one by one – will be the game’s main focus.
While I didn’t care much about the story, I did enjoy the game’s appearance. The previously mentioned visual improvements – from the original 720p – translate well into the game’s cutscenes, providing a crisp picture. Though somewhat brief, cutscenes are smooth and beautifully animated, with a distinct art style and an appealing colour palette. Gameplay takes place in multi-layered 2D environments which, albeit gorgeous, can become slightly repetitive due to predominantly dark tones and scarcity of unique landmarks. Each level can be traversed in several ways, but no matter how you decide to progress, stealth will play an important part.
While controlling the nameless ninja – let’s call him Bob – you will have to make use of shadows and avoid any light sources, such as projectors, and flashlights mounted on enemy weapons. A greyed-out or colourful portrait within the HUD indicates whether or not the character is currently visible. Noise is also a consideration; an action like jumping won’t produce any sound and Bob can land from almost any height without harm. Running, however, will, and any produced noise is emanated by a circular wave; if anyone is within this wave they can hear him. Enemies will proceed to investigate any suspicious activity and their field of view is represented by a front-facing cone. Mark of the Ninja provides a lot of visual feedback, which helps at planning each and every move.
Surrounding environments can be utilised to conceal your whereabouts; you can hide in shadows, behind objects, on walls or ceilings. Most of your time will be spent sneaking through tight ventilation shafts and remaining hidden whenever possible. Adjacent rooms can be scouted by leaning against a door or peeking through a ventilation opening. Guards are often blocking your path and a diversion may be required. Luckily, the game provides a varied range of tools for any wannabe-ninja. Items, like darts and smoke bombs, can be used to distract or stun your enemies. Unprotected sources of light can be destroyed with darts, while smoke bombs can block laser beams or temporarily disable a guard who’s enjoying a cigarette. These items, along with many more, can be employed liberally, as their supplies are replenished upon reaching a checkpoint.
Direct encounters with anyone are unadvised, as the character is quite vulnerable and falls in battle after only a few hits. Once the opportunity presents itself, a takedown can be performed on an unsuspecting enemy by holding the indicated directional button in conjunction with the attack button. If successful, Bob will perform a gory stealth-kill, after which the corpse can be hidden to avoid alerting other guards nearby. Like most actions, takedowns are well-animated and extremely satisfying. Stronger, more demanding enemies, as well as dogs, which require a more cautious approach, are gradually introduced. Don’t worry though, animals can only be incapacitated.
Initially, takedowns are limited to ground only, but other methods can be learned from skills. There are three skill trees pertaining to different improvements. Certain skills allow for a takedown from the ceiling or from behind a closed door, while others provide existing items with additional properties. Amusing diversion options can also be learned. For instance, a body of a deceased guard can be hanged from a perch, terrifying any other soldiers in the vicinity and making them vulnerable to a stealthy attack. These upgrades can be acquired via a banner on some levels, or before the start of a mission. New skills become available depending on story progression and require skill points to unlock. There are several ways to earn them.
Each level has a set of unique optional objectives, or Seals. These can range from killing a guard in a particular way or destroying a specific amount of light sources. Completing a number of Seals within a set also unlocks Styles: cool costumes which grant (mostly) beneficial properties. In addition, there are scrolls and artifacts to collect. Scrolls contain Haikus and, like Seals, award skill points, while most actions – including takedowns – contribute to the overall score for a level. Attaining a high enough score on any given level, in turn, provides you with additional skill points to spend. Furthermore, challenge rooms can be discovered while exploring a level and, upon interaction, teleport the character to a remote location. They generally require you to solve some sort of an intricate environment-based puzzle and reach the scroll at the end.
Mark of the Ninja is not a very difficult game and missions can be completed at a steady pace. That said, completing all of the optional objectives and achieving high scores can be slightly more challenging, adding to the overall replayability. A “New Game Plus” mode is unlocked upon finishing the game once, which retains all of the previously acquired upgrades, but makes the enemies more intelligent and significantly decreases the amount of visual feedback.
To round things out, there’s also the added DLC content, which tells the tale of a young Dosan – one of the supporting characters in the main game. His story takes place across a single mission involving a group of bandits. Dosan is supposed to neutralize them, but he does so while mostly relying on non-lethal methods, which are just not as satisfying. On a side note, bandits can be killed by an “accidental” fall on spikes (just saying). Several new items, including a costume, are introduced, which can also be employed during the main storyline. Despite these additions, I didn’t enjoy the DLC as much, though it does somewhat diversify gameplay and prolong the overall experience.
If stealth-based games are not your cup of tea, then Mark of the Ninja is unlikely to sway your mind. On the other hand, for those who prefer slow-paced gameplay with an ample amount of stealth mechanics, it will deliver an exceptionally enjoyable experience.