This week, we bring you two absolutely superior sidescrolling ninja experiences ready, waiting, and available to be injected into your face using your Linux box. This has left the world with one chilling challenge: which is the game that they should be playing? Here, now, we give you the answers.
The Reigning Champion: "Mark of the Ninja"
Apart from being one of the greatest ninja games of all-time on any platform or system, "Mark of the Ninja" is also notable for being one of the first (and best) attempts at creating a modern sidescrolling platformer focused around stealth-based gameplay. Only two games in the history of videogames jump out of my memory (to cut my face off with a katana) that even tried to implement 2D level design with "sneaking mission" play concepts: "Elevator Action" (and several progeny from the arcade era of the 1980's) and "Bonanza Bros" (a 2 player heist game for the Sega Genesis).
While the overall strategic concept behind MotN is stealth-based, its tactics (very much like its enemies) are executed by the player on the tactical level, and it is here where the game delivers a ninja-based experience unlike any other, rivalling even the awesomeness of the original "Tenchu Stealth Assassins" for the PS1. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTL4Nx_FJc4)
(Our Video Review of Mark of the Ninja: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGiGEs5fqpk)
To that end, MotN presents the user with a stunning variety of tools and techniques both familiar to the mythos of the ninja (ability to climb walls and ceilings, use grappling hooks, throw smoke bombs to distract and disorient, etc.), as well as several that are the products of the developer's imagination (ravenous insects for corpse disposal, for example). These combine with allowing the player to selectively stop time in the middle of the action to select the appropriate tool or technique, ultimately creating the authentic ninja-badass experience: there's nothing like taking all the dynamic factors of a complex opposition into account while effortlessly flying through the shadows of a heavily populated room, or making the precise calculation for exactly where you need to place a smoke bomb in order to escape detection faster than a guard's aim (and bullets) can hit you.
It's the detailed combination of these gameplay elements that ultimately grant the player nearly absolute free will as they attempt to complete each mission's objective, acting as a shadow insurgent against a heavily armed paramilitary private security firm, sweeping silently through the skyscraper noir of the modern 21st Century world. MotN doesn't just present you with a "choice," it is made of many hundreds of choices, and the mastery of many techniques and tools, which - just like the decision to use or not use them - open and close many paths to sweet, sweet, delicious, ninja carnage.
Finally, the total excellence of the game's design and execution makes it an absolutely timeless title, just as fun today as it was when first released several years ago - and likely as it will remain until games themselves are no longer a relevant artistic or entertainment medium.
Return To The Gaiden:
I'm not entirely sure that anyone has ever actually determined what the fuck the "Gaiden" part of "Ninja Gaiden" (a generationally revered ninja platformer from the early days of the arcade and console gaming, circa the NES), but our newest contender for Linux-based ninja action cries out desperately for the word to be placed in its title. Basically the opposite of MotN, "Shadow Blade: Reload" offers players the frenetic, lightening-fast, cartoony (but with dashes of realistic violence) action that once was the essential kernel of the sidescrolling ninja genre. In SBR, gamers will find a backflipping universe of air-dashing, shuriken-throwing, no-fall-damage, wall-climbing, deathly acrobatics, designed exclusively to keep them going forward, killing faster, and scoring higher.
While MotN is a complex and exquisite cup of perfectly brewed coffee or espresso, SBR is an insane sugar rush from shotgunning 4 NoDoz and 15 Pixie Sticks with a Jolt Cola chaser.
It's also worth noting that, while gamers on other platforms and operating systems may have experienced the wonders of "Shadow Blade: Reload" last year, the game has only recently been ported to Linux. More importantly, the game-breaking bugs that initially accompanied the port have been defeated (at least, in our tests), finally letting Tux-based users experience its liquid-smooth platforming slice-and-dice glory.
It all comes down to the "Gaiden Factor:" if you want a ninja game that harkens back to (yet improves upon) your memories of arcade platforming ninjitsu action, then "Shadow Blade: Reload" is absolutely the title for you. If, alternatively, you have spent years longing for a game that brings all of the exciting possibilities of taking on the role of a true master of the shadow path, then "Mark of the Ninja" is going to explode your brain with its multiplicity of boners. Either way, it's basically impossible to go wrong with either title's stylish sublimation of ninja action.