Klei Entertainment, makers of Shank and Shank 2, were showing off their latest title Mark of the Ninja on the floor of PAX East 2012. The pace of this game is much slower than Klei’s past projects, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Mark of the Ninja is very much a stealth title where players will have to take to the shadows to avoid and/or take down enemies. One of the first things players will notice about this game is its art style. Just like Shank 2 (see our review), Mark of the Ninja sports a clean hand drawn comic book style. One that made Klei’s previous games stand out among other downloadable offerings – and it will likely do the same for Mark of the Ninja.

The graphics also help make it clear for players if they are under the cover of shadows or not. Looking at screenshots of the game, people might assume that our unnamed ninja protagonist wears all black. However, his outfit is bright blue in color, it’s just that when the ninja goes into shadows he’s displayed in black – the same goes for his enemies. When the characters in this game are exposed to the light that’s when they show their true colors – and are, subsequently, more vulnerable.

Mark of the Ninja PAX East 2012 Spider Man Hang

Similar to other stealth games like Metal Gear, the enemies in Mark of the Ninja have a cone representing their field of vision. The ninja also has a range of vision, but it’s much more cleverly disguised. The areas outside the ninja’s field of vision are blurred in a slight “depth of field” effect. This gives the player a way of determining what’s visible without ruining the aesthetic of the level art.

Another small touch that assists in gameplay is the ability to peek through doors and vents. When approaching a door the ninja will not enter until a certain button is pressed. Pushing forward on the joystick will enable the ninja to see into the room up until a certain point. This allows the player to assess the situation and plan accordingly.

Players can take out lights to either mask their approach or attract the attention of guards using their throwing daggers. When targeting a light players can hold down the button and see how far the range of the sound of the breaking glass will reach. This can be used to safely take out a light source or attract an enemy into killing range.

Ultimately, there are several ways players can take out enemies. There’s the standard “sneak up from behind” approach. Then there’s the “Spider-Man” hang. The ninja is equipped with a chain that works very much like the grappling hook in Batman: Arkham City – used to pull himself up to light posts and other high objects. From these heights, the ninja can lower himself down for a stealthy death-from-above kill. The ninja can also pull enemies into vents if they are foolish enough to walk by them.

Mark of the Ninja PAX East 2012 Sentry

Since this a stealth game many would expect Mark of the Ninja to be considerably slower than Shank. This is true, the pace is slower, but the animations and movements are smooth to the point that the game doesn’t make the player feel as if they’re moving at snail’s pace. Unlike the main protagonist from Ninja Gaiden, the ninja in Mark of the Ninja isn’t built for offense. This doesn’t mean that getting caught means instant death. The ninja can take down individual opponents with his sword, and if he can knock them down then he can perform a insta-kill. Just don’t expect to fight off multiple enemies like in Shank.

Mark of the Ninja allows the gamer to take on situations in a variety of ways and Nels Anderson, the Klei Entertainment rep at PAX East, says he’s seen players employ approaches that he’s never seen before (and that the development team hadn’t even dreamed up). We had a lot of fun figuring out the best way to take down enemies – and even more fun utilizing our new-found ninja skills to carry out our stealthy plans.

Mark of the Ninja is shaping up to be a solid game for players who enjoy stealth and/or indie games – and we recommend keeping an eye out for the title when it launches later this year.

Mark of the Ninja releases this summer exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade.

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