I think it has been a kind of lackluster year for retail releases. It doesn’t seem to have the depth of Game of the Year caliber titles that recent years have had in my opinion. I do think it has been a very strong year for downloadable games though. And despite the heavy competition in this area, there was a clear winner for me. My Downloadable Game of the Year is:
Mark of the Ninja
While other popular Downloadable Game of the Year picks’ strengths generally lied elsewhere this year (The Walking Dead‘s was its strong characters and compelling narrative and Journey‘s was… well whatever it was that people thought Journey did well I guess), Mark of the Ninja‘s strong point was definitely found in its deep and satisfying gameplay. Klei developed a very thorough 2D stealth game with extremely well thought out mechanics and level designs which ended up being my favorite downloadable game of the year as well as my favorite stealth game of all time.
One thing I love about the Mark of the Ninja are the options it gives you on how to approach the game. Of course, there are multiple routes to take through levels each of which still challenges the player, but that is not exactly what I am talking about. I am referring to the different styles to play the game in. And I don’t mean that stealth is an option and you can just run around brute forcing through levels as well. I mean different styles of stealth. You can go the Sam Fisher (of old) route and try to ghost your way through levels, distracting enemies with various items or the environment as you slink by them leaving no trace that you had ever been there. Or you can be more of a predator like say Batman in the recent Arkham games. Stalking your prey from the shadows, leaving a trail of bodies behind you though likely hidden away in dumpsters and vents. There is also another less traditional way of toying with enemies which the game refers to as terror. For instance, you can take out an enemy up on a ledge and then heave his body in front of another guard below causing him to freak out and shoot up some other baddies in the area.
And the game does a good job of encouraging you to play in these different styles. Each level has side objectives dealing with these different ways to play. Completing these as well as your general play during the level earns you points to buy new moves (like being able to stealth kill from behind doors or move more quietly) or new items (like a light that draws enemies towards it or dart that causes enemies to go a little crazy). But doing enough of these also unlocks new costumes that help you play in various ways. One stealth focused outfit takes away your sword, but gives you access to two distraction items and makes it so running doesn’t make as much noise. It’s a trade-off but a fun one for those looking to take more of a ghost-like path. When you throw in the game’s challenge rooms (puzzle like sequences that test your stealth skills), lengthy campaign and more challenging new game + mode, Mark of the Ninja also packs a ton of play value into its small package.
There is so much more to this game that makes it so good though. It’s the slick traversal system that allows you to sneak your way through vents, across ceilings and between various hiding spots. It’s the animations that look great and still don’t get in the way of the responsiveness of your movements. It’s the way it lets you know when you are hidden and how much noise you are making. It’s the cool modern settings that allow Klei’s trademark art style and complicated level designs to shine. Even the story is fairly interesting if not something that will light your world on fire.
Mark of the Ninja is a really fantastic stealth game. You don’t see many of these in the 2D sidescrolling perspective, so it’s also a rather original take on the genre. And it makes you feel like a cool sneaky Ninja in a way other ninja games rarely do. I can’t really say enough good things about this game. If you haven’t tried it, give the XBLA demo a shot. Or keep an eye on Steam because it seems to be on sale a lot (even though it totally deserves the $15 price point and more). I’d say it is not only my favorite downloadable game this year, but my co-Game of the Year along with the game that I’ll feature in my next blog which I should have up later this week. Feel free to let me know your favorite downloadable game released in 2012 in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading!