Title :The Mark of Kri
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :SCEA
ESRB Rating :Mature
Game Rating :8.4
Review by :Ken Gagne

Oral tradition, unlike the written word, is flexible. Tales transform as they are passed down through generations, each time preserving a bit less of the family's heritage. 

People no longer believe in the dark spell that was long ago shattered into six pieces, and given to six tribes to protect. But when an evil force moves to reassemble the magic, the barbarian Rau will learn his family's part in preventing such disaster. The tradition of 3D beat-em-up games is neatly preserved, yet also expanded, in The Mark of Kri, a PlayStation 2 game published by Sony. 

In Kri, players control Rau in a series of 3D action-adventure quests. Though each level starts at the village inn, where a quest or journey is issued, little other character interaction occurs. Once out in the field, players will be talking to people with the sharp end of a sword. 

Rau is as savage as he is barbaric. Though he wields his broadsword with finesse, he does so to merciless end, lopping off heads and limbs, skewering and impaling with impunity. Should he sheathe his sword, his bare hands can powerfully snap necks and crush skulls. There is much of neither blood nor gore, but the actions themselves are no less brutal and unsettling. 

The Legend of Zelda introduced the "lock-on" method by which characters in 3D games can focus on a single enemy. Mark of Kri expands the player's range to include up to three foes. By swinging the right analog stick, nearby enemies can be targeted, each marked with an icon representative of a controller button. Pressing that button will send Rau to strike that particular guard, though the fewer enemies on which he's focused, the more damage and the more punishing the combos he can inflict. 

Despite the variety of enemies and ways of which to dispose them, if that's all there was, Kri could be reduced to little more than button mashing. Fortunately, other gameplay elements expand the experience. 

For example, Rau's bird, Kuzo, is too old to be a combative partner (unlike the secondary and similarly-named star of Banjo-Kazooie). But a clairvoyant connection between the two allows Rau to use his feathered friend to scout nearby areas. Kuzo can also activate switches and translate ancient texts, both necessary to open the way for Rau. 

There is also the value of learning to stealth kill. Though Rau can eventually learn to target more than three enemies, even he can be overborne by an entire camp of thugs. Rau's massive weight can become a silent killer as he sneaks along walls and up behind unsuspecting enemies, or strings his bow to rain death from afar. 

There are secondary goals for Rau to complete in each level as well. A primary objective must be met to advance in the game, but meeting various other challenges will unlock new costumes, combat arenas, and other secrets. Beyond giving the player something to do, these tasks are a deceptive way to train the player and teach him all Rau's abilities, challenging him to use specific methods to kill a certain number of guards, or to avoid using the sword as a crutch and to find other innovative ways to immobilize a sentry. 

Kri's graphical style is often reminiscent of Disney (though I doubt Walt would've ever approved such carnage). Lush, tropical backgrounds cultivate the wild atmosphere. But between levels, narration unfolds as, before the player's eyes, a picture is inked onto brown parchment. This method by which the story develops simultaneously aurally and visually is fitting for a game of such ancient, tribal setting. 

I've grown weary of cookie-cutter beat-em-up games, and worried that The Mark of Kri would succumb to this chasm. If not for a unique environment and storytelling method, and various gameplay enhancements and extras, it would've, as Kri is such a beat-em-up game at its core. But it climbs out of that pit far enough to leave its mark on the PS2 gaming scene for as long as its six levels last. Comparisons to Metal Gear Solid prove inaccurate, but if you like Tenchu, then Mark of Kri deserves your attention.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 05-Aug-02