There are two kinds of stealth games. Real stealth games and, as Jamie Cheng, refers to them, "American ninja games." He says this with a wink when we meet with him in a private meeting room above the cacophony of PAX East. Jamie is the founder of Klei Entertainment, here to show off his next game, Mark of the Ninja, and when he says "American stealth games" he means something very specific.
UPDATE: Bit of a miscommunication here. When Jamie referred to "American ninja games" he was actually referring to the 1985 film, American Ninja, not stealth games made in America. The story below has since been updated to reflect this.
ORIGINAL STORY: There are two kinds of stealth games. Real stealth games and, as Jamie Cheng, refers to them, "American Ninja games."
He says this with a wink when we meet with him in a private meeting room above the cacophony of PAX East. Jamie is the founder of Klei Entertainment, here to show off his next game, Mark of the Ninja, and when he says "American Ninja games" he means something very specific.
By Jamie's definition, an "American Ninja game" is one that offers stealth as an option, not as a requirement. It's a nod to a 1985 action movie, American Ninja. For example: Hitman. Stealth is obviously encouraged in that series, but if you really feel like running and gunning, you might actually make it out of there alive.
That's not the sort of game Jamie is interested in making. After all, his company has already made two brawlers (Shank and Shank 2), games that couldn't be farther from the stealth genre. But with Mark of the Ninja he's trying something very different. Something we haven't really seen in a while.
He speaks of some of his inspiration for wanting to make this a "real stealth game."
"Obviously Tenchu is up there ... that kind of feel," Cheng said. "These days it isn't really represented."
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, released in 1998, required players to stick to the shadows and avoid open combat at all costs. That's exactly the sort of style Jamie hopes to capture with Mark of the Ninja, albeit from a 2D perspective.
Mark of the Ninja places you in the role a modern-day ninja, battling mercenaries for control over his homeland. Like the ninjas in Tenchu, the hero of Mark of the Ninja has no means for effectively confronting enemies head-on and must remain out of sight.
Even though it's 2D, the team at Klei Entertainment seems to have jammed every aspect you would expect from the genre. For example, enemies have vision cones to indicate where they're looking. Noise is also represented, and if you run, sound waves will travel out in concentric circles, alerting anyone nearby. You can, of course, use this to your advantage, creating aural distractions to allow you to sneak past enemies.
If you find yourself face to face with two armed guards, don't think for a second you'll be able to duke it out, Batman-style
You're far from helpless, though. Sneak up behind a guard and you can perform a silent kill, presuming you hit the correct button combination. Botch the kill and your mark will let out a scream, alerting others of their impending demise. And if you find yourself face to face with two armed guards, don't think for a second you'll be able to duke it out, Batman-style. You either dart off into the shadows, or you're dead. It's a punishingly faithful recreation of the genre, but fans of true stealth games like Tenchu or Thief would have it no other way.
Backing up the hardcore stealth gameplay is the artwork and animation of Jeff Agala, whose iconic work on Shank revolutionized how 2D games could look. Mark of the Ninja's visuals are considerably slicker and more detailed than the Shank games, though, thanks to a brand new lighting system and totally revamped, ninja-friendly animations. This couldn't be further from a simple reskin of Shank.
It'll be interesting to see just how much demand there is for a game like this, though. Shadow Complex proved that modern day gamers had a demand for 2D Metroidvania games, but will Mark of the Ninja do the same for 2D stealth games? We'll certainly find out when it drops this summer on XBLA.