Mark of the Ninja knows something that many stealth games do not: good stealth is about feeling like you’re Batman. Good stealth makes you feel powerful when you’re waiting. Good stealth isn’t about combat, but puzzles. Good stealth makes failure fun. Good stealth isn’t about mastering a skillset, but about offering a power fantasy. Mark of the Ninja is good stealth.
Right off the bat, the 2D side-on aesthetic is both something new and, in my head, overpoweringly obvious to the design of an effective stealth experience. By essentially turning the game into a map, it allows the player incredible, immediate ability to survey the landscape and devise a plan of attack, without ever needing to swap to another screen. This results in lightning-fast gameplay that makes you feel like you know your environment so much better than the person in the room waiting for an enemy they don’t know is right below them.
Mark of the Ninja makes you feel like a predator, and something predators do a lot is wait for their prey. You will wait a lot in Mark of the Ninja, but it never becomes boring because every period of waiting is a chance to think of a new way to mess with the head of your prey before swooping in for the kill. At the end of the day, you want Mark of the Ninja to score you in a way that reflects upon your amazing ability to turn murder into art. This makes every level a collection of puzzle pieces that are just waiting for you to arrange them in the perfect way.
Someone could complain that Mark of the Ninja is too easy compared to its stealth peers. I say its peers are too hard, and miss the point of good stealth. Failure in a stealth game – nay, any game – should feel like your fault, not the game’s. Too many stealth games offer overwhelmingly difficult tasks in the hope that you will one day come to master their complicated systems. Mark of the Ninja does away with this and offers you an accessible power fantasy with freedom for experimentation. Failure will come in Mark of the Ninja, but it offers you the opportunity for some on-the-fly improvisation to clear the room and disappear before the backup arrives. The result is a game that is entirely your own. Be the Batman you’ve always wanted to be.