Welcome to Mechanically Beautiful, where we look into the widely debated topic of whether or not video games are considered art. I’m here to say that yes, I do believe video games are a form of art. If you are not a believer of this idea, then maybe these articles will change your mind. But even if they don’t, you will get a chance to hear about and maybe look into some beautiful games in the industry. Today we look at the master of assassinations and colorful kills, “Mark of the Ninja.”
“Mark of the Ninja” is a stealth based, indie platformer by Klei Entertainment. You play as a ninja trying to save his clan and get rid of their shame. The gameplay is like a platformer in many ways except you are a ninja and a master of stealth so you can do many things like wall climbing, crawling through vents, and taking people out quietly. With a 2-D setting, it makes the game stand out against its platformer opponents. The game is also not easy and if you get spotted, you’re probably dead.
If Klei Entertainment might sound familiar that is because they also made the games, “Shank” and “Shank 2”, both highly acclaimed, 2-D brawlers. The “Shank” games were very cool looking with a cartoon style graphics and animation style that reminds you of the good old 90’s cartoons but more polished. “Mark of the Ninja” is doing the same thing, except even better. The animations to start with are even smoother and the overall style to the game is just that bit better to make the difference. The main character really looks like a awesome ninja assassin. He is covered in tattoos that give him special abilities and wears blue and black loose clothes. His pants are open and loose and he wears a cloth around his head all the time. His outfit sort of makes me think of a combination of monks and ninjas. His color scheme of blue and black is simple but makes a lot of sense for a ninja. When you see his body that is covered in tattoos the color scheme changes a bit. The tattoos have more of a red and green color scheme to them and look like the tattoos from the Japanese Yakuza. They definitely got the right feel of “I’m dark, ruthless, and I kill people.” for the main character. As well as his base outfit you can also unlock several other outfits that have different in game effects each of them having a different style. Each outfit has a different kind of reference to Chinese culture. Each and every character have great styles to them.
Of course not just the characters are good. The setting is just as awesome. It is a 2-D game, of course, so the background had to be taken into account. This game is not part of the newly created 21/2-D style platformer. There is not melding of the background and foreground the game is straight up old school 2-D. Due to this the background had to look amazing and don’t worry, they do.
Many of the levels take place in urban environments so the backgrounds look like bright gleaming cities. Some levels are in a strange desert area so the backgrounds are a expansion of hopeless dunes and sand. When you get to the jungle areas it’s a beautiful forest in the background. You might not think these kind of things matter but to make an art piece out of a video game you need to pay attention to every little aspect. Now for the foreground, they must consider the looks but also the functionality. It is a stealth game you need to be able to move around like, well, a ninja. Some games that do that stealth setup. You can feel the areas where it was forced. You look a vent and you think “There is literally zero reason for this to be here in real life.” Don’t worry though because Klei are masters of their craft much like Supergaint Games. There is no area in the game where the beauty was compromised for the sake of stealth. All the vents and pots to hide behind and light fixtures to climb on make sense. It might seem like office buildings are boring to be running around in but the style and structure of the buildings is interesting. There nice little hints of Chinese architecture and and designs on things like the walls. Every setting has a great amount of thought put into it between the art style and the functionality of the level.
Now the last thing I want to talk about is the way the art style looks as a whole. I can’t really tag a specific kind of art technique to it like cubism or impressionism or anything like that. It is really just a very graphic art style. Aside from looking like a cartoon it also looks like a very dramatic comic book. The characters have aspects that are overly extreme. Like solid squared off chins or huge arms and tiny legs. The guards in particular have fairly big chests and shoulders but their legs look pretty average. Even things like angels and edges are made to be more extreme. The main characters shoulders when shirtless are almost perfect edged circles. This kind of visual style might even make a great look for graffiti.
“Mark of the Ninja” is a beautiful graphic cartoon dish for the eyes. The game looks very happy and vibrant even though the story is fairly dark and involves a lot of murder. Klei’s style is very unique and intricate in a way many other games aren’t. I hope that if they do make more games they stick with this great style. Anyone who might try to copy them I don’t think will be able to because of the skill Keli has.