The Mark of Kri
Lukas' The Mark of Kri Review
A hybrid of espionage action and brutal hack and slash combat
A hell of an atmosphere in terms of stealth
Great voice acting
Sound effects sound cool
Storyline, while simple, works well for this sort of game
Somewhat shallow gameplay
Not much replay value to be had
Soundtrack doesn't stick out much, even from an atmospherical point of view
The Mark of Kri is a game not too many people talk about. I mean, yeah, it was one of the more hyped up and talked about games in 2002, but eventually became a forgotten gem. Gee, could it be because of games that rip this off? Shadow of Rome and God of War, maybe? Well, whoever or whatever it was, it made this game slip under everyone's radars, only to be a collector's item. For shame...
The game centers around a barbaric mute warrior known as Rau, and his bird Kuzo. Rau trains in the art of the warrior for...some reason I guess. In the game, he basically starts as a sort-of mercenary who helps people, as well as helping the inn get some business, but he ends up attracting the attention of some strange people who send him on bigger missions. That part of the story builds up over time, but that's not all there is to the story itself.
The more mystifying part of the story comes from the Mark of Kri that Rau has. This mark gets passed down from generation to generation for all eternity (kind of like the Dracula-slaying destiny and mentality that every newborn of the Belmont family from Castlevania gets) and... haha this stuff is a bit too juicy to spoil, plus that's basically the surprising part of the story anyway, so it's best that you play it and figure it out for yourself.
Before we look at the rest of the game, let's take a look at that box art. It looks pretty cartoony. Actually, most of the game's scenes look cartoony, but in different styles. Some have that super-detailed hand-drawn style to them, while the level intro snapshot is celshaded. You, as a parent (or if you were a parent), look and think "wow I think I should let my 3-year old son play this". That is a pretty bad move. Letting your kids get a hand on this game is going to scar them for life, because this game has some graphic ways of killing enemies, as well as a fair amount of blood (though nothing compared to God of War's pools and pools of blood as well as bodily mutilations, but God of War wasn't even a thought when this came out, and even so, it was wireframed and/or in writing). Jack Thompson would have a field day with this.
The game itself plays like a couple of other games - Soul Reaver and Tenchu. Soul Reaver for the brutal hacking and slashing gameplay (minus the soul reaving), and Tenchu's relentlessly stealthy atmosphere. Don't get it? Let me try to explain:
The core of the gameplay is of the button mashing variety, though in execution, it actually feels unique. To target enemies, you point the right analog stick in their direction (or just rotate it 180o to be a lot quicker), then press the button that appears on their head(s). The game does host some different combos activated by different button combinations, but the only combo you'll be doing is the "X X X" or just mashing the button that appears on the enemies' heads, as you're mostly fighting multiple enemies, though sometimes, other combos may be a good idea when against tougher enemies, provided you don't accidentally target more than one enemy. Pretty interesting, don't you think?
The AI is decent enough. They're not rocket scientists or anything, but they sure as hell aren't complete dummies (well, maybe in the first level they are). They effectively guard your moves and conterattack, though you can beat them reliably by mashing buttons...or can you!? See, that doesn't work because they actually fight back! Blocking and counter attacking is their method of attack (unless they're archers or pussy horn blowers - archers cheese you with continual shots while you get cheesed by enemies cornering you, but horn blowers don't do much outside of alerting reinforcements, allowing for easy kills), so you better keep focused in battle or you'll die!
Just FYI, your health is displayed near your feet closest to the screen. Throughout this game's 6 levels, you can find yourself some more health and some expansions to your health. Sweet, health expansions! Cool, right? Well... These only last for an entire level. Yeah, what a bummer... Other collectables include save scrolls which allow you to save mid-level (10 per level yet you can only hold 4 at a time) and arrows (which give you 15 more to fire with your bow once you actually get a bow), among some rare items you may find on your travels.
However, as cool as that all sounds, most of the game is spent trying not to get spot by enemies, especially those guys with the horns they blow to call in reinforcements. You get spotted by those guys, and you're *bleep*ed! Millions of warriors come your way and gangbang you! You can swivel the right stick and button mash all you want, but you will end up dying! That's why you need to approach the levels a lot slower. Kill your enemies more quietly by either sneaking up to them unarmed, or with a bow and arrow you get after finishing level 2. Unfortunately, if Rau does this all alone, he will eventually screw himself over and get killed because he accidentally gets spotted. How can we all remedy this? Kuzo, the bird!
Kuzo is ever-so useful! Although the only controls are the perch/return and switch views buttons among the analog stick which allows him to look around, he is an invaluable asset to your arsenal. Forget swords and axes, because reinforcements end up outnumbering you and kill you faster than you can slice them in half with an axe. Kuzo can stop this from even beginning by having you first hide in a safe place, then holding L1 and looking at a purple beam with a yellow bird symbol, then you pressing L2. The screen switches to Kuzo flying there and then you can see what's ahead. Depending on the circumstances, do what would come natural. Pressing triangle switches view from Kuzo to Rau, allowing Rau to get out there and kill some people either by snapping their necks, decapitating them or just stabbing them.
Here's an example - If some guy carrying a horn is walking away from Kuzo's direction and there's two archers, switch to Rau, equip the bow and shoot the two archers by holding L1 and then X when the symbol goes solid to ensure some headshots, before the horn guy notices. Then unarm yourself and sneak up to the horn guy, point the right stick towards him and then kill him!
I mean, there are variations to what you'll do and see in these situations like more guys to kill and some stealth combos where you stealth kill two guys at once (well, one after the other actually) as well as using the environment to your advantage (like birds flying away or boars that run like hell after having been shot by a bow), but that's basically what the game makes you do a lot. Don't worry though, that's about 52% of the gameplay. The other 48% is basically killing enemies right out in the open.
But what really wins me over is just how tense it all feels. Seriously, the tension is so much that it overpopuates faster than America (or so I've heard). It keeps you on your toes, just like with Tenchu or Metal Gear Solid (more emphasis on the former). It keeps you second guessing at times because you think you've snuck behind and killed a couple of unsuspecting warriors, then some arrows come your way, a horn sounds, warriors close in on you and cheese the hell out of you and OH GOD GAME OVER! That's just how good the stealth of the game gets, and also why you need to pay attention. Although I'm glad the game at least eases you into being stealthy.
One thing I sort of don't get though... Why is Rau being portrayed as a ninja? Isn't he some sort of barbarian? I guess since he's still in training and he needs to learn himself some stealth... or maybe his missions require him to not get caught by overprotective warriors, archers and pussies... whatever, I guess the best way to explain is that Rau is a barbaric ninja! NO MORE QUESTIONS!
Oh yeah, there are also these challenges you can do during each level. They involve either killing a set number of enemies in a sort of way (ie. Stealth kill 9 individual enemies or perform some combo on 4 individual enemies) or getting some item, or having Kuzo view some tablet. Either way, it's to have you explore the levels more or explore your options in combat more. I guess that's pretty inventive but considering these levels are long, you'll have most of them accomplished in a snap, most likely without knowing, although when it comes to exploring levels, that is another thing altogether.
The level design is mostly linear. Getting some non-linear exploration requires a bit of thinking, common sense and Kuzo to spot some pathways. See, Kuzo not only scouts for enemies, but he can also scout for a lot of other things. So anyway, after getting a bird's eye view of where there could be some potential exploring, have him return and you go on your merry way and get the item...or just do some sight-seeing! But mostly get the item.
Speaking of sight-seeing, the camera in this game is actually not too bad. Sometimes, it can get annoying, but trust me, this is good when you compare it to other games like Mark of Kri but with WORSE camera angles (Devil May Cry comes to mind here folks). The angles are nothing to gasp at or scream over or whatever, but for a game that has no camera controls (and can't afford to have any without sacrificing gameplay controls), this is...remarkable!
Now, I've heard many things about the length being a mixed bag. Some say it's too short, while others say it's at the right length. I side with the latter. See, Mark of Kri is an action/adventure game, not an RPG. To be completely honest, I have yet to play an action/adventure game that lasts 15+ hours which doesn't have a whole lot of padding. Mark of Kri cuts the bullshit and just gives you what's important - bare-boned gameplay that lasts the right length. Does 10 hours seem good enough? It should! It...always was the perfect weekly rental, though those who bought it would probably not play it for a long while after finishing.
Okay, yes, it only has 6 levels, but you know what? These 6 levels are long! Very long by today's standards in fact. Each level takes at least an hour and a bit to complete (well except the first level). Of course, the story progresses only at the beginning and the end of the level, so not only will the tense stealthy atmosphere and risk of getting *bleep* in combat get to you, but so will how this tale will progress. How does the Mark of Kri work? Who is the man behind all this crap happening? When does Rau get a line of speech? All these questions and more will be answered...in an hour's time, enjoy getting bludgeoned out there!
So in the end, what does Mark of Kri deserve to be? Does it deserve to thrive with the God of Wars and Halos, or remain underground for the hardcore? Well, I think it should be hailed as a classic, not burrowed away as some inferior being, only to be an underrated gem, because this game is an underrated gem! There's some hiccups here and there, but this game is nothing short of sweetness! Don't miss out on it!
Excellent, the combat plays out extremely well, the sneaking around actually adds to the game and it also makes it more challenging, and manages to fuse a couple of games' best aspects into one without failing! Can we say..kickass!? Unfortunately, it's a bit shallow.
Controls are great for the most part. They respond when they need to and Unfortunately, combat is a matter of mashing buttons, though that can be looked over if you really get into it.
Some real juicy stuff going on like birthmarks being made out into some curse or miracle or whatever, as well as a barbaric-looking warrior going from mercenary to ninja to hero. What more could you ask for in this sort of game?
The game has some pretty sweet graphics. The hand-drawn scenes and the hand-painted introductions are jaw-dropping to say the least, and the in-game graphics look nice for a game released in 2002. The grainy look in the character interaction scenes, I used to hate until I grew to think that it actually suited the game much better - less boring, let's put it that way. Only problem - slowdowns, but that was when there was like 6 enemies on screen at once.
The voice acting, I like. It sounds a little cliched, but hey, it fits well into the theme, plus it was all believable and not at all overdone. The sound effects..ehh, they're sound effects and they sound realistic to put it simply. As for the music, it has a sort of tribal atmosphere to it yet it can really set the tension of the atmosphere of the game...if only it stood out more...
Although there's the challenges to complete if you didn't already, there isn't really much point to replay the game a second time, unless you really loved it the first time or it's been quite some time since the first time you finished it. Though that's typical of an action/adventure game.
The game is quite fun to play through, especially since Rau kills his enemies fairly graphically with neck snappings, stabbings against walls, decapitations, headshots, whatever, plus the combat system is fun to play around with. The AI can get annoying, the camera might get on your nerves and over-abundances of reinforcements will annoy the hell out of you, but everything else is fun.
If you're getting tired of games like God of War, Shadow of Rome and all those other games, why not dig a bit deeper and check out Mark of Kri? It's only 10-20 bucks (I got my copy for $15) and a lot of fun to play. It's not about how much gore you can shove into a game, it's about having some goddamn FUN (I mean yeah, God of War is fun, but Mark of Kri is more fun).