Mark of the Ninja Review
Klei Entertainment’s latest game gives the stealth genre a much-needed wake-up call.
Graphics & Atmosphere Overview
The ninja live in shadow, so it may be no surprise that much of your screen will be black while playing Mark of the Ninja. Klei has successfully mapped a series of environments that support fun and varied encounters, but visual appeal seems to be a secondary consideration.
Other than the cartoony character models, art design and environment details are relegated to the background. In the foreground, which contains the surfaces, objects, and NPCs you'll be interacting with, design is fairly drab. Each environment looks basically the same, and they all run together in our memory, with only one or two standing out. Buildings have also been designed with very little attention to the way buildings look in the real world. The level maps are meant to serve the gameplay alone, not the visuals, and we frequently puzzled over the illogically vast networks of service ducts and convenient ninja-tunnels that seem to populate every locale in the game.
Although the foregrounds run together, backgrounds are colorful paintings that aren't so busy they detract from the action. Animation of characters, both the protagonist and the goons, is really the finest element of the graphics package. We only wish a few more animations were included. You can only disembowel a guy so many times before it gets old, you know?
Japanese drums and full orchestration combine to result in an appropriate, competent, but ultimately forgettable soundtrack. Yet simply the inclusion of an orchestrated soundtrack is a big bonus for an XBLA title, it's the mark of a high quality product, and makes the gameplay feel a little bit more epic.
The best part is the way high-energy moments are matched up with swells in the music. There's a sequence near the end of the campaign that's essentially a "survive the onslaught" scenario, and the soundtrack crescendo that goes with it really deepens the excitement.
Hopefully you won't be making many of these, remember, you're a silent assassin. But when sound effects do occur, they're usually pretty generic walking, slicing, or choking noises. Nothing stands out here except the excellent "whoosh" of the grappling hook, which makes an already-fun mechanic even cooler.
Speaking of sounds, this seems as good a place as any to write about the onscreen sound indicator, which is a brilliant and self-explanatory assist. Every time you run, grapple, or really do anything for that matter, a circle of varying size will surround your character based on how much noise he's making. With this tool, it's possible to actually see exactly how far your noise will carry, and whether you can expect to be detected.
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