Mark of the Ninja; Grade: 4 stars; Platform: Xbox Live Arcade; Genre: Action; Publisher: Microsoft; ESRB Rating: M for mature.
Silence persists as darkness falls, and only a street lamp or the moon lights your surroundings. You feel comfort in light, safety. That peace shatters when the cool steel pierces your flesh and you fall quietly to the ground. The silence continues.
Silence, and the stealth it requires, feed the enjoyment machine that is Mark of the Ninja. You play as a nameless assassin of the night who is propelled by red tattoos that give him unique powers but, conversely, drive him toward madness. The story feels rather blah (since it feels too close to God of War), but the cutscenes and level design pick up the slack with its visual style paying tribute to the excellent Batman: The Animated Series.
Like that show, the game is almost enveloped in darkness. Play this game at night and feel yourself slipping into the shadows, avoiding lasers and guard dogs that show no remorse when taking you down. The silences in Mark of the Ninja are brilliant -- make a mistake or eliminate a guard too loudly and the piercing alarms will jolt you out of your seat.
A female partner sometimes accompanies you but your true sidekicks are the potted plants, ventilation shafts, and other nooks that provide you cover. You'll never survive this game trying to hack and slash your way through, so when in doubt always look for the slow, circuitous route. It's more time-consuming but richly rewarding when you clear the room without having to unsheathe your blade.
Know there will be blood. Sometimes death must be dispelled, and the way you go about eviscerating those in your path is thrilling and messy. Side-scrolling 2-D games done this well give you reason to believe a renaissance is happening with the genre, and we don't have to join a shadow organization to enjoy it.
Way of the Samurai 4; Grade 1 star; Platform: PlayStation 3; Genre: Action; Publisher: Xseed Software; ESRB Rating: M for mature.
Way of the Samurai 4 a big disappointment
I still am not sure what to make of Way of the Samurai 4. Is this a legitimate samurai game that is just poorly produced on nearly every scale possible? Could this honestly be something the developers were taking seriously?
Perhaps the truth lies elsewhere. Maybe, in fact, this is the first attempt at gaming in the mold of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where all aspects of the game are so fine-tuned in their ludicrousness that you instead sit back, play, and laugh along with what is taking place.
How else could I explain a game where one minute the action involves sexual torture and the next the European invasion of Japan?
The pointlessness in this game oozes from every bamboo tree and dojo. With multiple storylines to play through, you experience the unfolding events from different perspectives (though, again, none really makes a lick of sense). The game has no grounding in reality, just a series of bizarre sketches that play themselves out depending on whose story you are experiencing. At one point I found myself standing still just watching random citizens get mauled by a train because they walked right into its path. I couldn't save them, but I couldn't stop watching the mayhem, either.
This is theater of the absurd taken to the highest peak, a Groundhog Day where nothing goes right. I wanted to laugh; I wanted to cry; I wanted to feel something, anything. By the time I stopped playing I felt nothing, except satisfaction that I didn't have to play again.