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.
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