Into The Spine Of: Mark of the Ninja Remastered

In the shadows, for my time.

Walking, crawling, running, jumping. Everything must be done trapped in the shadows, thus the slight miscalculation on our part can lead to a quick death in a matter of seconds. Using a variety of tools, traps, and abilities, we’re introduced to a number of levels in which we must become either a ghost or the enemy’s greatest nightmare.

Approaching missions slowly for the entire game is a certain change of pace if you’re not used to stealth games, but Mark of the Ninja Remastered proves that there’s still potential for that indie hit from 2012 in this current gen.

The story set us inside a ninja clan that follows a very odd ritual: there’s a special ink that, when applied as a tattoo onto a person, can grant them superhuman abilities and sharpen their senses in particular ways. Thing is, once the mission is completed, the chosen warrior has to commit harakiri. Otherwise, while the ink can make someone very powerful, it also can drive them insane the longer they endure with it.

Fighting against a criminal organization, and with a few particular faces in mind to kill, we venture into multiple detailed and intricate levels in a 2D perspective, mixing platforming with mainly stealth mechanics to both move around the maps and either confront or avoid danger.

The way missions start goes a bit like this: you’re presented with the main objective, say eliminating a specific target or retrieving a key object for your mission, with a number of side activities. These are tied to both the scoring system (more on that later) and the actions themselves. So, for example, they might ask you to remain undetected for throughout a certain area or to eliminate a specific type of enemy in particular ways. Others are a bit more specific, like killing three enemies with a chandelier from a ceiling or causing friendly fire by causing someone to panic and shoot their teammates.

Mark of the Ninja Remastered lives through meticulous experimentation, and it always rewards you for putting yourself out of your comfort zone. Back when I played the original game, I had just gone through Shank, Klei’s delightful beat ’em up. Jumping from chaining attacks between knives, chains, and chainsaws to having to watch literally my every step was a huge change of pace. And I must say that it took me a while for the game to finally click.

Even then, I moved on onto other stuff (and even life I guess? it was a damn long time ago) and never got around to playing it properly. Now, thanks to the charm of the Switch and its remastered visuals, it was hard to put it down.

You have to be careful all the time, yes, but the game doesn’t take long to give you enough tools and movements to get you up to speed. One of the main mechanics is using a grappling hook to get around the levels, jumping to platforms, ceiling doors or light posts, to name a few. It only takes a few seconds, and it’s something you’ll find yourself doing often. It feels great to traverse everything in this way, even if it’s a mechanic we’ve seen a dozen times in other games.

And there are even more unique takes in Mark of the Ninja Remastered to make the experience more appealing. Darkness is your best friend to stay out of sight and be able to sneak up on enemies without them noticing you, and in this game, noise is your nemesis.

While there are a few melee attacks, I killed pretty much everyone using nothing but executions. Once you’re close enough an enemy, a button prompt will show up, followed by a short QTE sequence. If done correctly, the target will be assassinated quietly and you’ll get a score bonus. If not, anyone nearby will be able to hear the enemy’s screams, noticing your homicidal act immediately and ruining your cover.

As I mentioned, there are a few tools at your disposal as well, like traps, smoke bombs and throwing knives (by far the ones I used the most to destroy light posts). These serve different purposes, as smoke bombs can both distract enemies and disable lasers for a short window of time, for example.

There are skill trees to upgrade both your abilities to increase the number of ways you can kill enemies, stand your ground during combat with more defense or reducing the noise you make during running and the tools as well. Smoke bombs can be turned into poison clouds, perfect to kill a group of enemies simultaneously as long as they aren’t wearing gas masks. Additionally, completing the side activities will grant you emblems that, when met the requirement, will unlock new suits for the main character, suited for different playstyles with every different attributes to each.

And there’s a deep score system that ties everything together. Every action you make affects in a positive or negative way, such as hiding bodies or being detected, respectively. It’s a deep one, and I paid a lot of attention to it during my time with the game, trying to achieve all three additional objectives in each level and hunting for as many collectibles as possible (oh, and there are secret challenge rooms as well), and it always felt fair. Yet again, it pushed me to play in a way that the developers intended, not restraining my experience but rather inviting me to dive even deeper. You can get high scores by either killing as many enemies as you can, or just being a ghost and finish the level without hurting anyone.

This improved edition is a fresh take on all this, improving the already impressive and detailed animations, along with tweaks in sound and resolution (the latter affecting all platforms but Switch, of course). It plays and looks great in both handheld and docked modes, but as it has been happening in several games lately, subtitles might be a bit hard to read in handheld mode.

Mark of the Ninja Remastered is the definitive way to bring back memories or dive into this stealth-focused experience for the first time. It might not be for everyone, but it surely does a great job opening the doors and guiding you in. Exploring each corner and experimenting always has a reward, and you never feel like you’ve met a dead end. The story might not be its strongest aspect, but it does start to get interesting and somewhat confusing at first in the later levels. As for everything else, Mark of the Ninja Remastered still stands its ground as a unique game even after all these years.

A copy of Mark of the Ninja Remastered was provided by Klei for review purposes. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.

By Diego Nicolás Argüello

Founder and EIC of Into The Spine. Probably procrastinating on Twitter right now. Talk to him about pinballs, Persona, and The Darkness. @diegoarguello66

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