Game Description: An intense and exhilarating fighting adventure experience, The Mark of Kri delivers graphic and gory fighting in a stylish cartoon universe. The gameplay is varied and involves exploration, strategy, and stealth, among other elements. With an engaging story line filled with conflict, magic, and discovery, the game follows Rau, a heroic warrior unmatched in skill and strength, as he battles through richly detailed environments to discover the truth about his family's dark secret. Featuring a completely new and innovative combat system, detailed character design, and clever gameplay, The Mark of Kri aims to breathe new life into the action-adventure genre.
The shift in videogames from 2D to 3D has led to the development of many new and interesting concepts, but some old favorites have found that making the jump to the next generation has been tougher than expected. It's arguable that old-school shooters may have had the roughest transition, but in my view developers trying to recreate classic beat-'em-ups like Final Fight or Streets Of Rage are the ones that have consistently stumbled time and time again.
Recent titles such as The Bouncer, Eve Of Extinction and the utterly miserable State Of Emergency have all tried to recapture the style of action so popular in the 16-bit era, but none have succeeded until now. At the risk of sounding overly enthusiastic, I think its safe to say that The Mark Of Kri represents the definitive next-generation update to the genre. It retains enough of its heritage to be recognizable as well as satisfying, but it also understands that today's gamers are more sophisticated. They won't settle for a few coats of paint slapped on top of an ancient formula. By avoiding the dual traps of repetition and overly simplistic design, Sony has released an unheralded masterpiece upon the unsuspecting public and laid waste to its competitors in one clean slice.
The Mark Of Kri is a third-person action game starring a massively hulking barbarian named Rau. The emphasis of play is split between two main types of interaction. The first is the kind of sneak-and-kill stealth similar to that seen in Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid, and the second focuses on large brawls and multi-opponent combat.
When in sneak mode, the goal is to either avoid or assassinate as many enemies as possible in order to increase your chances of success. To remain undetected while hiding behind corners or on rooftops, Rau can use his companion bird Kuzo to act as his spy from afar. By mystically seeing through the avian's eyes, Rau is able to survey territory ahead in a way that's strikingly similar to that presented in the cult classic film The BeastMaster.
During the bloodthirsty melees, players jump into the thick of things by using the right analog stick to "sweep" a targeting beam around Rau. Doing this actively selects up to nine opponents to attack, depending on the weapon he has equipped. (The battles consistently feature odds higher than nine-against-one, however.) Enemies are then assigned an O, X or Square symbol, and by pushing the corresponding button, Rau will launch an attack towards that enemy or group.
When delivering death, killing machine Rau has four different choices. Starting off with an agile sword, he soon gains a bow for long-range attacks and a spear/club combination called a Taiha. At the end of the game, players will also receive a staggeringly lethal axe capable of screaming through several opponents with a single blow and leaving them in pieces.
The game features six levels that are absolutely huge in area. Rather than letting players wander about aimlessly, they are laid out in a linear fashion to maintain a clear path of advancement. Once players complete the main game, there are six arenas in which players can try for fast completion times or high body counts in order to unlock bonuses and extras.
Now that I've gotten the factual overview of game features out of the way, I hardly know where to begin talking about the games good points. I'm tempted to say, "Rau sometimes gets caught on corners and the camera has minor hiccups in tight places, but everything else is great!" but somehow I don't think that the other critics would let me off the hook so easily. In all seriousness however, this game is simply outstanding.
Starting with the visual presentation, I was stunned at how much work must have gone into the top-notch design and animation. Its no exaggeration to say that Kri looks like nothing so much as a playable animated film. Using a team of artists who have worked with both Disney and Don Bluth studios, the smooth and engaging style blends influences taken from the Samoan, Maori, and Celtic cultures (among others) and presents a cohesive and engaging visual tour-de-force. Of special note are the cutscenes, most of which use the artists hand-drawn sketches. While other games have tried this low-tech approach to storytelling before, Kri's are such a natural fit with the cartoon aesthetic that they enhance the overall package instead of feeling like a cheap way for the developers to cut corners.
Not content to merely produce a game that pleases the eyes, the hands are quite satisfied as well. The Mark Of Kri offers a world-class level of elegance and Spartan sensibility by keeping things streamlined and intuitive without ever becoming simplistic.
For example, the compact philosophy of the level design is nearly perfect. Items are placed throughout areas exactly where theyre needed most, and the straightforward design of the environments does an outstanding job of alternating between the two types of play. With a smooth curve of advancement, players feel as though they are constantly learning and advancing in the game without becoming lost or overwhelmed. New techniques and equipment are seamlessly integrated, and never feel tacked-on or superfluous.
For further proof of the game's genius, the combat engine is nothing short of revolutionary, yet feels so natural and logical it's amazing it hasn't been done before. Rau's targeting beam gives players the right level of control and strategy to elevate the fights beyond simple buttonmashing. By only selecting one enemy, Rau can use all three attack buttons to inflict a fatal combo, but by doing so he might leave himself open to attacks from the rear or sides. By targeting a crowd of foes, he guarantees himself the ability to strike out or dodge in multiple directions, but none of the blows will put enemies down for the count. It's also possible to retreat and reposition yourself to gain advantages depending on the weapon used and the environment you're in. The sword is perfect for getting in close, but the axe needs quite a bit of room before it can be swung with impunity.
The smart player will be able to overcome the game's challenges by analyzing each situation and coming up with a strategy that works rather than rushing headlong into confrontations. Even better, sometimes the answer is simply avoiding combat altogether.
One of my favorite portions of the game featured a massively deep pit with your goal at the absolute center. It was possible to simply jump down the walls and rush to the middle, but youd be cut down before you reached halfway due to the numerous archers posted around the perimeter and the carnivorous brutes guarding the bottom. The only way to emerge from such a deathtrap was to take a look around, and then try to reduce the odds as much as possible by sniping bowmen and sneaking behind guards to break their necks silently. It required patience and a bit of planning, but once the proper steps had been taken, the final confrontation at the bottom became challenging instead of impossible. Its quite rare to find brains and brawn in the same game, and Kri pulls it off with ease.
In nearly every respect, The Mark Of Kri is the perfect example of how to make a game the right way. For those naysayers out there who might complain that theres not enough to it, Id caution you to not confuse elegance for simplicity. The designers clearly show an advanced level of sophistication and restraint by creating a game that not only delivers functionally, but aesthetically in much the same way ICO revitalized the sagging and unimaginative action-platformer genre. No expense has been spared. Graphics, gameplay and story all deliver—even the voice acting is amazing. All told, the only bad part about The Mark Of Kri is the lack of advertising its received. For some unfathomable reason, Sony seems to feel ambivalent or even apathetic about giving it a good push into the market. Dont let the lack of buzz give you doubts. The Mark Of Kri is a true classic.
I'm happy to say I can echo Brad's enthusiasm regarding The Mark Of Kri. It's a damn fine game. And while I don't quite consider it the masterpiece he does, there's no denying that its innovations are fresh and well-implemented. It's the kind of game that proves just how shallow and uncreative other, more popular games often are. Brad used the word "genius" in his description of the game design, but I don't see anything about it that suggests a super-intelligence—just good old-fashioned common sense, tempered with a healthy dose of inspiration.
As Brad mentioned, The Mark Of Kri claims (implicitly, I'd argue) to be an evolution of the classic "beat'em up" sub-genre of action games, which all but dwindled into extinction in the 1990s due to the rise of competition-based fighting games such as Street Fighter and Tekken. Brad's assessment that the attempts to revitalize the genre have been, for the most part, pathetic is undeniable. The fact that The Mark Of Kri is so successful where others have repeatedly failed, I think, provides a valuable lesson in intuitive game design that aspiring game designers should take note of. While it is easy to see The Mark Of Kri as the result of fighting game conventions done right, it's true virtues lie in design elements that transcend the genre. Like most innovative games, it understands that the best way to do any idea justice is simply to create a world where a single set of rules governs all elements, in this case the elements of stealth, strategy, and combat. You know you're playing a good game when it effortlessly combines types of gameplay from several genres into one simple control scheme.
As a game playing experience The Mark Of Kri feels refreshing and whole. I especially like the little touches that creatively reconcile tricky gameplay mechanics. The ability to see things from the perspective of Rau's bird, for example, is an extremely clever way to give the game a dimension of strategy without needlessly bogging it down with obtuse menus or confusing camera management. Likewise the stealth elements could have been disastrous, but the logic of how silent kills work smartly empowers the player by building on his or her familiarity with the combat controls. And the combat itself manages to maintain a high level of intuitiveness by constructively playing off the players innate knowledge of the PlayStation 2 controller layout. These are all remarkably well-thought out design decisions.
Of course, it's not perfect. While it does work beautifully most of the time, I did on occasion find the controls to be troublesome when in the midst of an overwhelming melee. The game boasts that, depending on the player's skill and choice of weapon, he or she can effectively attack many enemies or groups of enemies in rapid succession. I personally found this difficult, and mostly developed a strategy that involved attacking one enemy at a time. While I do suppose my difficulty executing some strategies might be from a lack of practice, there are other small blemishes that pop up in such intense circumstances like bad camera placement or occasional slow-down which can hinder gameplay. Also, while I do agree with Brad that the level design is quite good, I cant help but think of how Mark Of The Kri might have yielded additional replay value if the levels were non-linear environments a la Tenchu. It's true this could be traced back to the linearity of most beat'em ups, but with gameplay this dynamic and engaging it can't help but seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity to limit the player's freedom in choosing how to approach a situation.
So, yes, there is room for improvement in The Mark Of Kri, but it should also be seen as a testament to the game's quality that there isn't much room. Criticisms are pretty much reduced to nitpicky issues of general polish and personal bias, and players are likely to walk away from the experience with the overall feeling that they played a great action game. Uniformity is the key. I didn't speak of the art direction or other non-gameplay elements because Brad covered them so well, but I think it should be mentioned that part of the game's appeal comes from how well all elements compliment each other... not just those within the gameplay. However, I do think the uniformity within the gameplay is the most impressive thing about The Mark Of Kri, and the reason why I recommend it.
Good action games are pretty hard to come by, and it is even more unusual for a game to combine the old and new of the genre successfully. Last year's Devil May Cry did a good job of it, and this year The Mark Of Kri offers a similar breath of fresh air but with greater innovation to the fundamentals of the genre. It's a rock-solid title that any gamer should enjoy... provided they can stomach some brutal—but elegant—violence.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Violence
Parents should not let any young ones near The Mark Of Kri. While there are no sexual situations or questionable language, the level of blood and gore is extremely high. To paraphrase a famous saying: Killing is Rau's business, and business is good.
Gamers in general should definitely check out the disc. With extremely high production values, unusually good game design and a ton of action, the game delivers on every level. Kri earns my highest recommendation, but be aware that it does get quite challenging in later levels. Using your noggin is required.
Action fans are in for an amazingly good game. Take the stealth-kill aspects of Tenchu and combine with the best 3D "Beat-em-up" engine that Ive seen. Add in liberal amounts of Conan the Barbarian and Samurai Jack for flavor, and bake at 350 degrees for an hour. The result? The Mark Of Kri.
Deaf and hard of hearing gamers... I'm extremely sorry to report that the entire story is told through inaccessible voiceovers with no subtitles. I have no clue why Sony did not see fit to include text. The action will still play fine, but its a glaring oversight not to include equal accessibility. Be warned, and also disappointed.