When Mark of the Ninja first released back in 2012, I gave it a miss, only picking it up when it hit one of the Steam sales and I was glad I did, I loved it. Now that it has been remastered, it gave me an excuse to jump back in, but is the game as good as I remember?
You wake from your slumber, having been blessed with the first mark, known to give powers to those that bear it, a bell sounds off in the distance, another member of your Ninja clan advises that armed men have invaded the compound and are killing all they find. The two of you set off to save those you can, as well as the sensei, who is being beaten up by the leader of the invaders, once that is accomplished, the sensei bestows another mark and you begin your hunt for the evil that is causing your clan this pain. The story is the same one from the original release, there are no changes to discover here, but that is ok, as the story is worthy of a repeat visit.
The gameplay is as solid as ever as well, with some incredible stealth and insane skills, but it is when you combine them that things can get really rewarding. Most of the enemies that you encounter will only see you, if they shine a light upon you, or if you enter into a well-lit space, some though, will actively cause light to blast up, thanks to a flare gun, or in the case of the dogs, sniff you out. Learning the limits of how close you can get to an enemy, before they spot you is critical to your progression. As you move on, some more enemies appear and they are not as easily distracted, which requires more thought on how to get around, ensuring that ever if you become a master ninja, there are always things to be wary of.
The levels themselves are the real stars, as they are caked in detail, not in that they are rendered with photo-realism, but more in how light plays a role, in shaping them. The earlier stages are more about sneaking around in ducts and crawl spaces, which help you get used to moving around, but once you leave the city and head to the desert, you have to deal with a lot more open space, and some environmental issues. Being able to sprint across a roof, land on a platform, slide down a chain and take out an enemy, is quite the rewarding experience, even better when you do it all, without being spotted. While the enemies can feel dumb at times, they will be on the hunt for you, should you make too much noise, or worse, stand in the light and while its easy enough to lose them, it will mark you down in your final score.
The score is not something that most players will worry about, I honestly believe there will be few players that actively seek out a deathless play through their first time. The game does offer a new game plus mode, which ups the difficulty, but there is more than just some tougher enemies, they are now smarter, your noise rings, indicating how much you are making, are no longer visible and more. While you can replay stages at will, if you go back to an earlier stage, it will remove your progress, so nothing something you should do, unless you want a perfect play through. Another aspect to the replays, is that you can always equip a different outfit, giving you some new challenges to experience, from not carrying a sword, to only being able to use one distraction device, the suits, can really change up how the game plays.
There were a few issues that I had though, the first was that I would randomly fall through the ground or vents, without me doing anything, it never happened a lot of the time, but when it did, it was shocking. The other issue that I had was that in the later portion of the game, where you must survive for 3 minutes, against enemies that are ruthless in their hunt, whenever I got caught and killed, which was a lot, I got stuck in a loop. The game will save your best location, when you pass it, so if you die, you don’t have to repeat massive amounts of game, but here it would randomly spawn me in different spots and at one time, it was right in front of one of the enemies, which resulted in my death, but that loop kicked in. It was such a frustrating experience and really made me angry that the game would do it, I honestly lost count at how many times I got stuck in that loop, but eventually, I was able to outlast the timer and finally get past it.
From a visual perspective the game shines, as just like its original release, there is a lot of emphasis placed upon the lights and shadows of the world, something you will see quite easily. Your character has two distinct looks, one for when you are in the light and the other for shadows, and the game handles the swap between them very well. Enemies have the same effect, letting you easily spot one who is in shadows and usually safe for a kill, though you will only ever see so far into the shadows, another enemy could be sitting there, just out of range and cause problems for you. While the game sports an Adult Swim visual look, especially with the blood and what not, its control of light and shadow is what makes it stand out.
Sound is also an important part of the game, the musical track is something that remains in the background but is brought forward, whenever the action needs it. Elements of the world that you can interact with are quite loud, helping you recognise when you have caused a change in the world, from the sounds of birds being scared off, to lights breaking, the sounds are there for a reason. The most constant sound is that of your own footsteps, from the quiet patter as you sneak around, to the loud thumping when you have to make a hasty retreat, the sound is always there.
Mark of the Ninja Remastered is an amazing effort, while the original game crafted a world that was teeming with options, the remaster does nothing new. The game looks visually amazing, but without any changes or additions to the core game, repeat players need not venture back, but if you do, you will still have an incredible time.