I've been meaning to play a Klei Entertainment game for a while. I played the demo of the original Shank and was blown away by the animation and art, and the side scrolling beat-em up was pretty damn fun. But I revisited it to show a friend how awesome it was a few days later and was incredibly disappointed by how little fun had retained for a second playthrough.
Every time the Shanks came up for sale on XBLA I've thought about slapping down the Points for them, but just never enough to actually get them. Then Mark of the Ninja came along. I'll admit I didn't even realise it was Klei for a very long time, well after release. It intrigued me, especially with its art style (which the fact I didn't realise it was Klei makes me look even more stupid). But it was BeefJack's own Anthony Shelton that really got me to pay attention.
While the rest of us were harping on about how good The Walking Dead and XCOM: Enemy Unknown were, Ant declared Mark of the Ninja his 2012 Game of the Year, and he's not far off the mark.
After that awful pun, lets get on with talking about the game. Mark of the Ninja is, rather unsurprisingly, a Ninja game. Not a Ninja game like Ninja Gaiden which is really just an excuse to cut people open with a huge sword while dressed as a Ninja, but an actual Ninja game all about stealth, distraction and shadows. Ninja!
However, Mark of the Ninja is more of a puzzle game. You are at one side of the room, you have to reach the other. In between is an assortment of gun carrying mercenaries, laser trip wires and motion sensors all in a bid to stop you. It's down to your skill and ingenuity on how you get there.
Thankfully Klei have put plenty on offer for your little assassin to cope with these obstacles. You can hide in alcoves and kill off a guard as he strolls by. Ring bells so they look in the wrong direction as you sneak past. Cut the power to the trip wires. Hang upside and string up a merc, there by scaring all his nearby colleagues, meaning that they're not paying enough attention to spot that shadow over there is actually moving. The one thing you can't do is run straight into one and one combat, which is only right.
It's this versatility that makes Mark of the Ninja so fun. You never feel like there's only one way to get past someone, it's down to how you want to do it. You have full freedom to do it how you want. I never felt more silently powerful then I did against the first 'boss'. The man had prepped the room, ready for my arrival, covering any eventualities. Well any for a normal person. Instead I crept along air ducts, took out the snipers, switched off the lasers and dropped the roof on him. All without him having a clue I was even nearby.
Not only that but it manages to tell a fairly decent tale at the same time. The story isn't deep, but one line of dialogue at the start has you questioning just what it is you've been set out to do, only for those suspicions to twist the game on its head once you've uncovered the truth. It's by no means deep, but it does its job well.
When I picked The Walking Dead as my Game of the Year for 2012 I felt guilty about not having played FTL or XCOM, both games I thought could have been contenders for that title. I'm adding Mark of the Ninja to that list. Having now played all three my decision at the end of December would have been a lot harder if I'd got round to them on release.