Mark of the Ninja is on a mission. Numerous ninja titles clutter the videogame stage with flashing katanas, dense fight numbers and a knack for remaining seen by enemies. The stealth aspect of a ninja’s finesse has been ignored in these games, and Mark of the Ninja is looking to change that.
Developed by Klei Entertainment, the creators of the Shank and Shank 2, MOTN is a 2D platformer built around the concept of remaining unseen. Artistic looks aside, MOTN is a completely different beast from the Shank series.
In the playable version at PAX East (one of the stronger demos at the event) we were given control of a ninja in training. Lead Designer Nels Anderson walked us through the game and spoke about the trials of crafting a 2D stealth game and how the team doesn’t want to make a Shank ninja game.
“It has not been an easy game to make at all because it’s not a thing that really exists,” Anderson says. “We had to look at how 3D stealth games accomplish their things and try to look at on a higher level what their design goals were and the methods they used. And back filter that into 2D.”
Using cover, for instance, is not so simple since hiding behind a corner is not an option in a 2D realm, Anderson said. To solve this, MOTN has areas of covers – bushes, streetlamps, doorways – that players can move through in seamless motion. Whenever moving in and out of cover, the ninja’s clothing will switch between colored and completely black, indicating his level of visibility. In light, his clothing is fully colored and in danger of detection. The guards patrolling the level each have their own vision radar that is strengthened by hanging lights.
Should the ninja sneak up on a guard, stealth kills become available. Doing so requires players to input the correct directional key that flashes at the maneuver’s inception. Press the wrong key and the guard will be killed, but will cry out and draw the attention of other guards.
Players will also have tools to assist and distract, like firecrackers or a grappling hook, which was sampled in the demo. Shurikens and bamboo darts can blow out light fixtures or cause noise to distract guards. The grappling hook, enables movement around upper platforms, then dropping down on unsuspecting guards or just bypassing them altogether.
“Beyond a few named, very specific assassination targets, you can probably get through the entire game without killing anybody,” Anderson says. “That was a play style we definitely wanted to support.”
And if stealth is the name of the game, then being exposed spells certain death. Isolating and eliminating enemies one by one is the most effective offense, though Anderson says “choice” and “intention” have been key development concepts, so the path to the end of the level is left to the player.
One of those choices is whether or not complete “seals” — three optional side missions on each level. The seals vary from saving fellow ninja buddies to collecting hidden scrolls across the level. Save them, collect them; it’s up to you.
Mark of the Ninja is set to release this summer on XBLA.