Traditionally, being a "ninja" in a video game means you have supernatural speed and strength, and as such you feel confident running down a street in broad daylight, slicing through anything in your path. Role models like Joe Musashi and Ryu Hayabusa exemplify the video game ninja, a super-strong, invincible monster who feels no compulsion to seek shadows, unless those shadows are full of still-unperforated alien monsters.

In Mark of the Ninja, you're just as supernaturally capable as any NES-era ninja, able to cling to almost any wall and grapple from vantage point to vantage point instantly. But Klei Entertainment built this ninja game around the stealth you'd expect from the profession, and did so in a way that feels every bit as natural as Ryu tossing a column of flame at an eagle.

Armed with a series of stealth-enhancing abilities and an iconically lucid visual interface denoting shadow, you feel just as skilled as those action-hero ninjas, but with those skills applied to invisibly emptying a fortified building of guards. There's never a question of whether you'll be seen or heard; you know before you do it, making proper execution of an execution contingent more on careful planning than on plain carving.

I felt satisfied leading an imperceptible killing machine – someone who was quickly becoming little more than a deadly rumor – through the game, until I realized that what I found even more satisfying than leaving no trace of a dead security force was leaving no trace of my own existence. From then on, I attempted to navigate the whole game without killing everyone.

Mark of the Ninja allows the player to pursue stealth combat or pure stealth, killing everyone, no one, or anything in between, using the same skills of careful, planned movement and distraction. And unlike a Metal Gear Solid, for which a no-kill, no-alert game is an aspirational "hard mode" reserved only for the craziest players, a Mark of the Ninja no-kill run is a viable and interesting option, rewarded as all play styles are with custom abilities tailored to that style.

Though it's possible to play Mark of the Ninja with as much or as little bloodshed as you'd like, it's not easy in either case. The situations you'll find yourself hiding in and from are complex, and you'll likely experience more than a few humiliating failures and the occasional accidental emergence from behind a plant. But, like the sleeveless ninjas of gaming history, you always have the power to master those situations, even if those powers trade bombast for finesse.


Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2012 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far:
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  8. Mark of the Ninja
  9. Mass Effect 3
  10. ZombiU

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

Best of the Rest: Richard's picks of 2012