(Side note: I have not played this game a single time since I wrote this review, and I barely remember the game or the review years after the fact. Thirteen years removed from the entire experience, this should be interesting.)
The Mark of Kri
System: Playstation 2
Release Date: 7/30/02
I remember going to see An American Tail when I was a child. (Still do, in fact; that and The Secret of Nimh still hold a huge place in my heart.) The animated movie was a masterpiece for it’s (GODDAMMIT 2002 ME FUCKING LEARN YOUR GODDAMN GRAMMAR) time, and I was quite shocked by how lifelike it seemed to me at that point. I was more shocked when I saw games that looked like that, namely Dragons Lair and Space Ace, and I was incredibly impressed with how good they looked, and how animated the characters were. (And now that I’ve had the chance to play them multiple times because companies keep rereleasing the things on every console imaginable, I can’t fucking stand them and never want to play them ever again.)
So you can imagine my surprise when I saw The Mark of Kri.
The connection here is Don Bluth. Don and company are the creators of some of the greatest animated movies and video games, such as the ones mentioned above. They also created the world and characters of The Mark of Kri, and it shows. (As I will explain in a couple of sentences, Bluth had no actual connection to the game, but those who’ve worked with him in the past did. I have no idea why I was all over Bluth’s nuts here, since he wasn’t involved in the game, except possibly because I had only the most tenuous of connections to work with to introduce the review and ran with it. Sigh.) However, the single most interesting difference is that in none of those movies or games did characters bleed much, let alone in the amounts they do in Kri. Make no mistake, this game isn’t for kids. Even so, Bluth’s unique style- or, I should say, the style of those trained by him, as he had no ACTUAL part in this game- (There we go.) is apparent throughout, and the game comes off as being something of an animated masterpiece for those of us that grew up on his work, but just need to see someone have their own sword shoved into their eye. (That is, in point of fact, an actual death sequence in the game I believe.)
Anyway… the general gist is this: You are Rau, a native warrior of some sort of Native American or Incan tribe (the game never goes into that much detail) who has a desire to go out into the world and make a difference. He aids the townspeople, accepts missions from strangers, and eventually, has to stop an unholy evil from taking the world. Aiding him in this is his bird Kuzo, his friends and family in town, and of course, some sharp weapons to kill his enemies. (You may feel like I’m glossing over a lot here, but no, the plot really wasn’t all THAT involved until the end until MAKIN’ A DIFFERENCE RAU went to save his sister at the end of the game. THEY SOMEHOW MADE A SEQUEL BASED IN THIS WORLD from that plot point, though I’ve yet to bother with it, and I don’t feel that much was lost.) Now that we’ve established the plot, let’s move onto the meat.
The one thing that surprised me more than the graphics here is the amount of variety this game throws at you from the get-go. Easily half of the game is built around a Metal Gear-esque gameplay: stealth and exploration. (Oh, so that’s why I never went back to the game, okay. MGS as a franchise is fine but if your game isn’t named Tenchu chances are good I don’t want to deal with it otherwise.) Rau has to spend a good bit of his time solving puzzles and sneaking around to advance in some of the games stages, (GODDAMMIT GRAMMAR). and he does so admirably. The developers gave you a lot of fun tricks to play with here, and it’s really a lot of fun. (I’ve become cognizant of my tendency to reuse words within the same sentence or related sentences and actively go out of my way to find different words whenever possible, so if that sentence pissed you off, believe me, it made me want to punch myself in the face.) Kuzo can be sent to certain places in the level (marked with a spinning eagle and a pillar of light) (I have no idea why I called it a spinning eagle since Kuzo was a crow and it makes sense it’d be the same bird type, but whatever.) to either scout ahead and warn of impending danger, or to activate switches and ladders otherwise inaccessible to our hero. Rau can sneak along walls and, if there is an enemy nearby, grab and kill them silently. He can also sneak up behind an enemy’s back and take them out, or snipe from a distance to kill silently. (MAN I could’ve done a lot more with those two sentences than I actually did.) All in all, the stealth and exploration parts of the game were done well, and compliment the game nicely.
However, the most interesting thing about the game is the fighting engine. When Rau gets into combat, you spin the right analog stick around to target enemies, and up to three of them are then assigned to your face buttons. With that accomplished, you may press any button at any time to attack in the direction of the highlighted enemy. Combat flows very seamlessly, as you can attack forwards, backwards, and sideways, with no problems, all at the press of a button. It really adds a new dimension to the game, and is the easiest multiple targeting system I’ve seen yet. (Batman: Arkham Asylum ended up doing the whole multiple-target combat thing a lot better all in all, though on reflection, this and the Jet Li game, Rise to Honor, did this thing well enough.)
All is not roses, of course… moving Rau is occasionally slow and cumbersome, though this is infrequent. When engaged in combat, you really have to pay attention to where you are, for if you strike at an enemy near a rock or tree, your weapon may bounce away, or worse, get stuck, leaving you open to attack. (I don’t remember that, but that sounds fucking stupid as hell.) Realistic, to be sure, but not too good. Combos require pretty good timing to pull off, at least when multiple buttons are involved, and can generally be interrupted on a whim by anyone, thus making (them) cool to watch, but utterly non-functional for what they were designed for. (I want you to know that I gave the Gameplay in this game an eight, despite basically saying that combos are bullshit and worthless. No wonder Bebito Jackson fucking hated me.) And finally, the lack of a jump button, or any sort of jump at all, makes the game seem slightly shallow at times. Again, these are all small complaints, but they add up.
The graphics here are incredible. That’s the easiest way to describe it. The characters all look as if they came from some sort of animated movie, and they move and act seamlessly. Rau in particular looks like they paid a great deal of attention to him, and is a very solid character as a result. (Artistically, anyway. I remember him being super fragile in combat, but maybe I just sucked at the game.) Animations all come off beautifully, and never look choppy or broken. There’s no clipping or draw in apparent here, and the framerate stays consistent throughout the game. No slowdown is also a huge plus. The backgrounds are also very artfully done, and look very realistic to the world they’re in. (Am I crazy, or is this all super boring?) The only real graphical issues that are apparent is that the camera tends to work against you from time to time, (which, sadly, seems to be a staple of 3D games) and that the character sprites repeat for the enemies you face in combat… I know it’s a staple of gaming in general, but I’d sooner see some slight changes from bad guy to bad guy as I move along the game than see the same guy thirty times. (I want you to know that I gave the Graphics a score identical to that of the Gameplay, despite the fact that my only visual complaints were minor camera issues and enemy repetition. No wonder Bebito Jackson fucking hated me.)
The in-game music does its job well enough… it’s not so bad that I wanted to shove the controller into my ears, and it’s designed to work with the game’s motif, so bravo for sticking to a theme there. However, it’s not the sort of music everyone will find themselves interested in, and I was never at the point where I wanted to buy the soundtrack or anything to that effect, but it definitely does what it set out to do. In the end, that’s all I expected. (These days everything is that way so I’m a lot more of a dick about it, though to be fair I also hadn’t played Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne yet, so my expectations were a little different.)
The sound effects, by comparison, are quite good. Enemy types make distinct sounds for noticing Rau, combat, and death (hee hee), (Oh fuck you, me.) weapons all have distinct sounds to them, and there’s ambient sounds in certain levels that add to the feeling that the game is alive. The voice acting is also phenomenal, and many of you out there will recognize a lot of the voice actors from Saturday Morning cartoons and dubbed Anime. (Not that I could be bothered to name any of them or look any of them up or anything.) Needless to say, all the actors pull off their lines smoothly, and it only adds to the enjoyment of the game.
It’s strange, actually, that with so much going for it, I really couldn’t find myself enjoying the game as much as I wanted to. (Probably because it was the same shit over and over again for hours.) Somewhere around Level 4 (I don’t know if the game was actually measured that way, level progression-wise, but I just had a “CSI is talking about Prince of Persia” flashback.) I just stopped liking it as much as I had the three levels prior. The game is a bit on the long side (about 6-10 hours) for a game of its type, (Oh my God did I just say six hours is long for an action game what the fuck was WRONG with me?) and for some of that time you’ll be doing absolutely nothing. After the first few stages, you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer, and that’s sad, because it leaves little to look forward to for later. The special objectives and Arena battles (you fight a ton of bad guys to earn hidden art and costumes) add some life to the game, but even so, once you complete the game, there’s not too much of a reason to go back. (Or any at all, since I never did.)
Overall, I’d have to say that this is a game that everyone should play at least once. (Yeah I’m gonna say “not so much” now.) The combat system is fantastic, and gives us a great idea of what games can do to get us closer to the crazy martial arts battles in movies now. (Again, yes, Batman does it better.) The ambience of the game is almost worth the price of admission, and the developers really went all out to produce a world in this game, and not just some disconnected stages. (The Path did that too, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone play that.) The game has a little something for everyone, but don’t go in expecting the next Tenchu, because you’ll be disappointed. (Hell I’m still disappointed that no one is giving us the next Tenchu.) It’s not a perfect game, but it does it’s job well, and has enough surprises to keep you interested to the end.
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Sound – 7/10
Fun Factor – 7/10
Overall – 7.5/10 (not an average) (Well, I’m going to say that, since the game is basically a fucking stealth action game, and a semi-repetitive one where combos were bullshit, the gameplay was probably a lot closer to a six than an eight. Further, since I got super tired of playing the game before it was over, and had no real reason to recommend coming back to it, Fun Factor was probably a five or a six; we’ll say five for the sake of argument. All told the game is probably closer to a six than anything, especially since I barely remember it, which says a lot, considering I still remember Buffy reasonably well, and I played this later. Not a terrible score or anything.
GEE I SURE HOPE THE NEXT GAME I RECAP ISN’T A COMPLETE SHITSHOW THAT FORCES ME TO DROP MY SCORE LIKE THREE POINTS. Ahem.)