Waypoint 101 — Mark of the Ninja


#23

So before getting into the meat of the stealth in this game, I do think it’s worth talking about two… questionable elements of this game: the portrayal of Japanese culture, and the ending. Keep in mind that it’s been a couple of years since I played it.

Mark of the Ninja is about ninjas, so it’s going to dabble with Japanese culture. I don’t think this is necessarily always problematic, but I feel a little uneasy about some of the themes in this game. I mean, the game starts off by talking about seppuku, and you collect a bunch of ancient scrolls with death poems on them. I recollect a lot of talk of honor and clans and etc., etc. Again, I don’t think this was doomed from the get-go, and honestly some of this stuff works, but a lot of it just feels a little… fetishistic.

I’m also concerned about the implications of the “insanity” caused by the ink. Regarding the ending: It’s revealed that Ora is actually a hallucination caused by the ink. My concern here is about the trope of “madness” and “insanity”. I think I would have been fine if Ora was shown as the ink incarnate, or that the “madness” is the ink more of a corrupting force, but from my recollection, it’s treated as a case of psychosis. I think this becomes even worse when what is often considered the “good” ending is where the player character chooses to go through with harakiri oath to stop that “madness”, which… has some bad connotations.


#24

Me neither/too (I bounced off it last time because I made the inadvisable move of attempting to play it on a laptop when I didn’t have any access to a mouse. Don’t do this, it’s unplayable on trackpad+keyboard - but it’s almost certainly fine with mouse+kb, which is what I’ll be using this time around.)


#25

I’m about halfway through the game (just finished the level after you assassinate Karajan’s lieutenant) and I’m quite enjoying my second playthrough. The game definitely holds up! Some thoughts on the experience so far:

  1. The developer’s commentary is fantastic. If you have the remaster, consider turning them on. They’re unobtrusive speech bubbles that are scattered throughout the world that you can activate at your leisure. They provide insight into the game’s design and historical references that informed the lore creation. @vehemently I recommend checking out some of these because they do engage somewhat with the cultural appropriation criticism that you smartly bring up.
  2. How is everyone liking the omnipresent scoring mechanics? It reminded me of the discussion we had in the Valkyria Chronicles thread where a lot of people were put off by tactics games’ insistence on grading performance. I was definitely feeling this for the first couple of levels where I would hide myself, distract the guard, kill the guard, and finally hide the guard just to maximize my score. After a while I got sick of that and turned off score indicators, but your total score in the HUD cannot be removed. I think this would have been a better game if it didn’t surface scoring so much. Being stealthy and not triggering alarms is satisfying in and of itself!
  3. Props to the game’s strong checkpointing. Knowing that I won’t ever be set too far back for failure has encouraged me to experiment with different items and abilities. It also makes sure I never got frustrated when I got to an “impossible” room. I just kept pulling on threads to see how the enemy’s defense unraveled until I had the perfect run. It makes for a very compelling loop!

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. How is everyone else liking the game?


#26

I remember finding myself tepid on this game despite being a stealth game fan.
It’s not necessarily a jab on its quality as much as a difference in preference. I prefer stealth games with a large explorable 3d space, and there’s something about the style and the presentation of the mechanics that didn’t appeal to me.
I might return to it and give it another shot in the light of this 101 though, refresh myself on what put me off and refine my thoughts a bit.


#27

I think you’re kind of getting at something, though, that I think is worth talking about. Stealth games are, by and large, 3D games. A lot of 2D stealth games, I’ve noticed, tend to end up being a little bit more like obstacle courses or puzzle games. An example that comes to mind is Stealth Bastard, which is more like a puzzle game, from what I recollect. I don’t think this is bad, and I love those kinds of games, so that’s not a problem for me. But what I love specifically in stealth games is usually the interplay with AI and movement and all that jazz.

Which is why I think, all things said, Mark of the Ninja gets a lot right. There are a lot of ways to get around levels, and the game gives you a lot of tools and toys to play around with. I have specific memories of unique kills and solutions to problems even years after playing it. You have to worry about hiding bodies and making sure you’re not making too much noise. I think the more obstacle oriented sub-levels in this game actually show how much more it could have been like a standard platformer. This feels a lot more like a stealth game than a lot of other stealth platformers I’ve played.

The biggest complaint I have, though, is one that goes for a lot of stealth games: maybe it’s my playstyle, but I always find it far too tempting to just creep through a level using the melee take down (especially with that point system…) That’s a shame, especially when there are so many cool ways to play.


#28

2D, or side scrolling to be more precious, stealth games did have AAA outing. The first 3 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games all have mobile ports and those are pixelated side scrollers. I remember seeing someone in my classroom played one of those game on a phone about 15 years ago. It was also before the ill-fated N-gage came out. Wonder Ubisoft made that decision to emphasize on the vertical plain that Splinter Cell was intended to work on instead of the horizontal one like Metal Gear.


#29

This is one that I’ve owned for a while (from a Humble thing?) and hadn’t actually played until now. I’m not normally one for stealth games, at least not once they get difficult, but I’m enjoying this so far, thanks especially to the generous checkpointing. The story feels pretty boilerplate and has not drawn me in at all thus far, but the act of playing the game is sufficiently enjoyable to counteract that.


#30

I also picked this up in a sale years ago, and bounced off of it pretty hard. I tend to be pretty slow and methodical when it comes to stealth games, taking in info as I go and then adjusting what I’m doing, and the game just didn’t seem to be accommodating to that style.
I’m really glad of this second shot at it though, cause this time I figured out I can treat most rooms like individual puzzle areas, almost closer to a Super Meat Boy stage, than the Splinter Cell or MGS I was expecting. I can view and plan my route through a space for as long as I need, while crouched in a safe vent, and then just execute the plan quickly all in one go.
It feels super great to pull off each time, both in the sense of a plan well done, and in that the character seems to be competent at what they do, which… they did not at all before…


#31

I loved this game back when it came out! As some others have said, it’s one of the few 2d stealth games that feels truly like a stealth game. It does an excellent job of balancing the empowerment of being a ninja with the disempowerment of being the protagonist of a stealth game, and the art style works really nicely with the way it moves mechanically.

I picked this back up and played the first hour or so again tonight. Definitely feel a little ickier about being bludgeoned with ninja cliches than I did when I first played it, and @vehemently makes good points about the ending as well (though I’ll have to see what I think if I get there again; I haven’t played the game since 2012). The way it plays still manages to impress, though, which surprised me. The fluidity of the movement and even the finicky bits that I keep messing up feel great.

Also worth noting, in my first return play session, I at one point Imperfect Kill’d three guards in a row from a ledge because I kept screwing up the directional bit, and it was pretty damn funny :sweat_smile:


#32

I really dug this game when it came out. Forgiving the fact that it’s a western trope filled take on Japanese things, and therefore fraught with that sort of peril.

I think it’s a real masterpiece of readability. At any given time, the immediate consequence of an action is crystal clear. This is the key element in any sort of stealth game, since that’s playing into the fantasy that we, as the hero, can treat a scene like clockwork, and fit into the gaps that exist and into the gaps that we create by pulling the right levers. There’s still an element of timing and controller mastery that keeps it an exciting, rather than an intellectual, exercise. It’s also super open to multiple solutions (as others have pointed out) to any given group of guards and obstacles, which makes play feel more personalized.

It’s also pretty good at forcing action, while at the same time really understanding where the right checkpoints are so that failed attempts don’t demoralize. You can’t succeed in the levels by being passive. You will need to link together several perfectly executed actions to get through certain sections, and you will fell like a badass when done.

I mainly did not like the tying of unlocking of character options to finding secrets (even though those options aren’t ever really needed). I did like tying of unlocking of character options to meeting other kinds of challenges, so I guess it’s more of a taste thing than a missed design.


#33

Just installed the game and getting ready to play. Just gotta say it’s jarring (and weirdly coincidental) to go from rewatching Gundam 00 to playing this game and the first voice I hear being Lisa Ann Beley (the voice of Sumeragi Lee Noriega in 00).

Was the real reason for picking this game to hear the sonorous voice of our wonderful tactical forecaster? I can’t say. But I know what my headcannon is.


#34

I got a lot further with this than I expected, but still bailed in the penultimate mission. I never had the fine motor control for platformers even before arthritis took its toll, am not really a puzzle guy, and hate point-based unlocks, particularly in a stealth game. (Being psychologically unwilling to play sub-optimally, but physically unable to play optimally, is a recipe for dissatisfaction; I quit a lot of games.) Still, for a 2D game the stealth mechanics were decent, and the checkpointing was so generous I could brute-force my way through the jumping eventually and skipped all the challenge rooms. I gave up when the game spiked the difficulty, adding new enemies and banning (however briefly) the lethal-stealth approach I had used for the entire game to tutorialize the final “mark of the ninja” mechanic. (I was already rapidly cooling on 2D Splinter Cell, but 2D Dishonored holds no interest for me at all.)

Normally I’d guilt myself into finishing a game like this for the narrative, but I really disliked what little there is here. Besides the questionable “Western anime” vibe, I guessed the plot twist during the first major cutscene, and there are no characters to speak of beyond types. After watching both of this game’s endings on YouTube (I’ll let more eloquent people than me deal with them, but: woof), I watched the cutscenes from Ninja Gaiden (1988) as well and got more out of that if I’m being honest. (Never finished that game either, now that I think of it.) Ah well. I had slightly more fun than frustration out of Mark of the Ninja, which I guess is all I can ask from this sort of game, personally.


#35

So I got what looks to be halfway through and I think I’m done. It’s well-crafted, certainly, but it just hasn’t grabbed me. I can see if you’re trying to speed-run or not kill anyone how that could be more engaging, but being able to hang back and be meticulous about it has led to things feeling kind of dull.


#36

Also really appreciate the checkpointing, and the fact that the Seals (optional objectives that earn costumes) stay unlocked even if you die/abandon a run. I could see finding that too generous, as it would be easy to exploit cynically. For my part though, I keep forgetting and am pleasantly surprised I can move on from something that was holding me up.


#37

I just realized that I never updated my thoughts after finishing the game. My previous points stand, but I wanted to shout out the face and neck stabbing. It’s really satisfying.

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#38

Sorry for quoting myself, but I think I came to some very similar conclusions when I played it just before this Waypoint started:


#39

#40

I think I’m two thirds into the game and I’m really enjoying it.

But, I’m the only one that think that the environmental art is… well… not great?

All the characters looks amazing and the music is superb, but the cities and building look extremely standard. There are some attempts to give them some flavor (like the buddha statues) but they mostly are, just there. I don’t know, a game with so much personality as this one could have a better look in its scenarios.


#41

I totally get what you’re saying about the environmental are being kinda generic, but for me it works because it makes the characters pop, especially as they move through different levels of lighting.

That last hallway walk where the ninja alternates between being brightly lit and completely dark is a look.