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Polygon 2012 Games of the Year #10: Mark of the Ninja

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Stealth games are terribly frustrating experiences. They're creeping, nerve-wracking adventures in trial and error, made unplayable and unenjoyable the moment you're discovered, then slaughtered in a hail of bullet fire. Or so I often thought before playing Klei Entertainment's Mark of the Ninja, a surprising stealth game that's ingeniously designed to address the shortcomings of the genre.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit hard on the stealth games of the world. I've enjoyed a Tenchu and a Metal Gear in my time — and I loved Rockstar's Manhunt — but generally find the challenge of hiding in the shadows a chore. I'd rather fight a foe than flee it.

That said, Mark of the Ninja forced me to rethink my affections for the stealth genre, thanks to its intelligent 2D approach.

Mark of the Ninja supplies the player a broad set of powerful tools to both slay enemies and avoid detection, allowing players to cultivate their own approach to the game's action-puzzle challenges. Playing stealthily and hiding in shadows, never killing a soul, is as eminently enjoyable as leaving scores of corpses in your wake.

Klei's most praiseworthy achievement is the visual language that communicates line of sight, distance of sound and visibility to the player. Mark of the Ninja also marries its strong mechanical and information design with gorgeous animation, a style that takes advantage of the Klei's graphical strengths. Add an incredibly nimble character that controls precisely as you'd want him to, and you're granted the supple ninja skills that require a lifetime of training — or so dozens of '80s ninja movies have led me to believe.

That always-in-control experience is what made me cheer for Mark of the Ninja, a game that feels like Klei Entertainment finding its particular groove in creating a flawless execution of the stealth game.