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Mark of the Ninja Deserves a Spot in Your Nintendo Switch Library

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $20

Mark of the Ninja Start Game screen.

The Switch has become a home for two things: a smattering of great Nintendo first-party releases and a landing zone for ports from other digital services. Arguably, the latter is what makes it a highly desirable portable game machine.

One such game is Klei’s Mark of the Ninja, first released way back in 2012. If you haven’t played it yet, the Switch remaster is the perfect excuse to pick it up. While the game released to quiet acclaim seven years ago, it deserves a victory lap as, perhaps, the perfect stealth-platformer.

game screen from Mark of the Ninja
The game’s hand-drawn visuals and dark atmosphere are appealing.

The setup for Mark of the Ninja isn’t all that remarkable: you’re a ninja, you just got your magic tattoo, and a bunch of mercenaries has attacked your ninja clan. It’s your job to sneak through a series of levels and slit as many throats as you can on your way to taking out several bosses. It’s the way that MOTN allows you to carefully and methodically accomplish this that makes it fun.

Calling this game a “platformer” is, appropriately, a bit of a misdirection. While you do control a single character, who runs back and forth in classic 2D fashion, the setup is more like an extended series of puzzles. And the way to solve those puzzles is, in keeping with the theme, murdering a bunch of bad guys. You’re given various techniques and tools to accomplish this, including classic darts, a grappling hook, smoke bombs, flares, and your sword.

game screen from Mark of the Ninja
You could also view the Ninja as an uninvited freelance surgeon.

Technically, the sword isn’t necessary. Aside from a few bosses, you can go through the entire game without killing anyone. That sort of creative freedom is pervasive in this game. There’s rarely a situation that isn’t solvable via several means—lethal, or otherwise. The game encourages you to try this, with optional equipment, armor, as well as weapon loadouts and bonuses in every level you get through without being detected or resorting to lethal force.

The whole thing is reminiscent of a side-scrolling Metal Gear Solid. Mark of the Ninja is undoubtedly aware of this: poke around its levels enough, and you’ll find at least one obvious allusion to the stealth genre’s heavy hitter.

game screen from Mark of the Ninja
The game’s puzzles will utilize all of your available equipment.

Mark of the Ninja’s 2D presentation is eye-popping, as you’d expect from Klei, a developer still shunning trendy pixel art in favor of hand-drawn animation. But it’s the overall design that leaves a lasting impression. Light and darkness change the level, the Ninja, and his enemies, and the sound (as perceived by the guards) is clearly communicated visually. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another game that so seamlessly blends visual design and gameplay.

The game isn’t perfect. It tends to miss a killing strike unless you’re at the perfect distance. But some smart design decisions—like frequent save points—help completionists master Mark of the Ninja’s more self-imposed challenges. The Switch port could use some tweaking, too—playing in portable mode with the nearly all-black visual design is hard. The camera stays zoomed out as if you’re playing on a TV. To be fair, this is a common problem with Switch ports and even Nintendo’s first-party titles. And the story, while diverting, is nothing to write home about.

However, if you’re looking for a challenging and deeply immersive stealth game, you owe it to yourself to check out Mark of the Ninja. Get the remastered Switch release with its included DLC, or grab the same package from a variety of PC and console stores. I’d tell you to pay for it just to encourage Klei to make a new one, but that might be unrealistic. Not only does the developer seem disinterested in this (it’s busy making another half dozen expansions to Don’t Starve), it seems almost impossible it could top the original.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $20

Here’s What We Like

  • Methodical sneaking gameplay
  • Perfect graphic/game mechanic combination
  • The $20 package includes DLC

And What We Don't

  • Hard to see in portable mode
  • Story is a bit dull

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »