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PAX: ‘Mark Of The Ninja’ Preview – Slipping Into The Shadows

From the violent minds of Shank comes the 2D stealth game, Mark of the Ninja. IGM had the chance to meet with Klei Entertainment’s Jamie Cheng to play through the first level of their upcoming single-player only game.

Mark of the Ninja has the same great graphical style and animation that Klei has become known for, but that’s where the similarities with Shank end. The opening cinematic sets the tone of this game and demonstrates to players that this game is about stealth and avoiding enemies – not over-the-top action. After this surprisingly non-violent opening, the tattooed ninja awakes to mercenaries invading his dojo and his Sensei in danger. This opening level acts as a tutorial and introduces the games mechanics and controls. The left stick controls movement, attack is mapped to the X-button, the A-button jumps, the Y-button uses your equipped item, and the B-button hides/unhides. There’s also the ability to freeze time with the Left Trigger, sprint with Right Trigger, and use your grappling hook with the Right Bumper. The opening level features throwing darts, but Jamie confirmed that there would also be firecrackers, smoke bombs and a spike mine in the final game.

As you can see from the gameplay footage above, Mark of the Ninja has a very deliberate pace with a focus on stealth and caution. The game is very subtle about communicating some of the stealth mechanics in the game. First there is the importance of staying in the shadows. When your ninja or enemies are in light they will actually become fully colorized. Plus, when you’re illuminated, the enemies’ line of sight is much larger and you are easily seen. To escape, you’ll have to break line-of-sight and return to the shadows. Another important gameplay mechanic is the importance of sound. How far sound travels is displayed graphically through sound rings. Sound can be used to your advantage and detriment. Sprinting may get you around quickly, but it also can alert enemies to your whereabouts. At the same time, banging a gong can distract your enemies so that you can slip by or attack them from behind.

Probably the most impressive thing about Mark of the Ninja is the way player’s line-of-sight works and how information and enemy whereabouts are displayed on-screen. I think the best way to describe this is through an example during my playthrough. During the first level, your first tattoo ability is unlocked. Jamie indicated that the player’s tattoos are very important to the story. Tattoo abilities will unlock new Ninja abilities but will never approach “ninja magic” or super-charge your killing abilities. They are simply a heightened sense of focus and observation. The first such tattoo ability allows your ninja to sense what is behind closed doors. Closed doors block your Ninja’s line-of-sight and are graphically displayed as empty rooms, but when you lean against a door enemies inside will be revealed. When you push away from a door, the last known enemy location will be displayed as a red silhouette. Klei has put a tremendous amount of thought into the mechanics of this game, which makes it already shine in its incomplete stage.

Honestly, Mark of the Ninja is my type of game. As a huge Metal Gear fan, it’s awesome to see an indie developer tackle the stealth action genre, especially a team as talented as Klei. The graphics are already gorgeous and the game was really solid and enjoyable. This game wasn’t really on my radar before PAX but now it’s one of the indie games that I’m anticipating the most. I didn’t want to put the controller down and was pretty pissed when Jamie snatched the controller away and said that I couldn’t play any further into the game. Who do you think you are Jamie Cheng! Oh right, the creator of the game.

Mark of the Ninja is set for a summer release on XBLA (my guess is that it will be part of the Summer of Arcade line-up, but Jamie had no comment and said that it was out of his hands) and is a Microsoft published exclusive. For more information about the game, visit the Mark of the Ninja blog.

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