I've had a rocky history with stealth games. I've tried to make it work, but communication is key in any relationship, and I've found the genre often lacking. The fourth or fifth time I'm spotted by an errant vision cone and summarily gunned down by a guard I never saw, I generally reload, give up the stealthy elements, and fight my way to the end.
Mark of the Ninja proves its stealth mettle by evading that problem entirely. It gives you all the tools you need to feel equipped to handle yourself, and the 2D perspective creates a greater environmental awareness than any stealth game I've played. The game elegantly delivers mountains of information, from how much noise you're making to the alertness status of each guard, with simple visual cues that are so intuitive they could be recognized even without a tutorial. It uses this to paint an impeccably delivered, moody tone: you are a ninja, you stay in the shadows. As your skills and powers progress, so do the formations of guards, creating a balanced interplay of push and pull, back and forth, testing your skills without crossing into feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
This game also holds the distinction of appearing that Klei has finally found its own voice. The Shank games were enjoyable enough, but the story was a loose grindhouse satire and the animations had a tendency to get in the way of the action. Mark of the Ninja, by comparison, uses Klei's propensity for extravagant animations to its advantage and keeps them from interfering with the play. All of this is wrapped in an understated story that deftly explores a culture confronting obsolescence, and the sacrifices made to defend it.
After Mark of the Ninja, stealth and I are finally on good terms again. I can only hope other games follow its lead.
The Shacknews Best of 2012 Awards were determined by ballot voting across the entire Shacknews staff. Andrew, Garnett, Jeff, Ryan, Steve, and Tyler voted for Mark of the Ninja, earning it 120 points and the 9th place position on our list. Stay tuned all week as we reveal all our winners.