Mini Ninjas

For a start, this game *has* to be cool, simply because, well, it has mini ninjas in it! The idea of playing with a band of tiny, deadly ninjas, against a background of beautiful asian forests, is a brilliant one. The resulting game manages to capture a great deal of the magic many of us imagine when picturing such a game, though sadly the game is pitched towards a wider generation, incorporating younger gamers and, as a result, dumbing down the gameplay and story somewhat. The game seems somewhat awkwardly aimed at both kids and adults, and may fail to capture either audience successfully. There's no film or major advertizing campaign for kids to go mad about and ask for Mini Ninjas, and parents are perhaps more likely to tend towards safer options involving cartoon or film tie-ins. Meanwhile, older gamers might be disappointed with the somewhat simplified controls, and placidly-paced storytelling.

Mini Ninjas

With the world inevitably under threat, ninja after tiny ninja has been sent to save the day, until only one village ninja remains. Fortunately, the little fella is quite talented, and begins his quest already able to hack and slash enemies, and even take the form of certain local animals. Though intended as a sneaking gameplay mechanism, the developers have actually produced one of the most enjoyable experiences in modern gamnig. By standing behind a fox, rabbit, frog or any other animal you see, you can take the form of that animal and lollup, bounce, trot or ribbit your way around the scenery, with varying degrees of comedy. The humour comes from the fact that the game never takes itself too seriously, and so animations for various character or animal movements are often accentuated, likely to bring a smile to the face of even the most hardened gamers. Miniature ninjas in full sprint, or a tiny fox at full gallop; all are entertaining to watch.

The game works like any normal third-person adventure, with your tiny character scurrying across reasonably open areas. The main activities involve dodging ninja enemies, adopting animal form, solving simple puzzles and collecting small statuettes. As you explore, you stumble upon temples, characters offering new missions, and altars where new abilities can be gained. Though much of the game can be beaten by simply sneaking through long grass and ambushing enemies, it's helpful, especially in the more ghostly areas, to have a few special powers on hand, each with an elemental background of sorts. The power of the sun, of whirlwinds and other natural effects are yours to command, and make certain enemy types much easier to beat. You aren't limited to just one character though. As you progress, other less fortunate ninjas can be rescued, as well as many poor defenceless animals who the powers of evil plan to turn into naughty ninjas. Fellow ninjas will join the team though, offering new skills like Futo's massive hammer, which comes in handy against larger enemies. In highly-believeable fashion, it's possible to switch between characters at any time, with one vanishing from existence and the other beaming in as a replacement. It actually doesn't dent the experience at all though, and similar things, like magically yanking a hat from ninja clothing to use as a tiny boat, are entertaining, as opposed to illusion busting.

Mini Ninjas

Skills are easy to map to the game's control setup, and despite a few wonky camera moments, the gameplay is fairly smooth. Sprinting across terrain is actually very enjoyable, if not completely exhilarating. This facilitates mild exploration tasks, with each level possessing plants to pick, statuettes to find and hidden areas to discover. No level will make gamers stop to scratch their heads, but there's enough diversity to keep most people interested. The gameplay is split fairly evenly into exploration, platforming and combat sections. The latter element is fairly basic, but a few boss fights are added to the mix. Amusingly-named enemies can be battled, each with an easy-to-remember attack pattern, and there's even a few quick-time events to keep things interesting. The remainder of the fighting largely relies on there being more of them than you to pose any challenge, but it's enough to make players consider a more stealthy approach to avoid unnecessary fighting. Staying hidden is pretty satisfying too, with long grass, rooftops, pillars, cliff edges and other environmental features all helping to allow players to craft a route through a level that avoids the majority of minor enemies.

The game maintains a fairly simple visual style, with basic character models and generally bold, bright colours. Pleasingly, the lack of fine detail does little to harm the game's overall visual appeal. There's a certain tranquility that results from the simple, peaceful colours. It's not unlike exploring a cartoon. Villages and temples in the game have a quaint architectural style that echoes the sensibly solid, but rarely extravagant, buildings that you might expect in rural areas. Costumes, boats, waterfalls, trees and almost every other feature all manage to look lovely, despite a severe polygon shortage in comparison to something like Uncharted. In adopting simplicity, the major advantage the game boasts is an absence of glitches and other errors that sometimes occur when a game becomes a little too ambitious. It might not seem like much, but it's a relief to play a game that happily bimbles along without worrying about texture 78330 loading incorrectly, particularly in an age of Fallouts horendous crash record.

Mini Ninjas

Voicework is a little weaker, perhaps because the game once again gets confused about its audience and aims things at the younger generation. The music and effects are far superioir though, and brilliantly complete the forest feel and ninja exploration. It never becomes boring, trotting around forests looking for animals and enjoying the general atmosphere. The trophies for the game largely revolve around collectibles and certain completion targets, which encourage you to explore further. There's nothing massively imaginative, but it's enough to encourage you to get the most out of the title. The saddest thing is the game's restriction to single player. Considering the multiple characters available, and that the developers were aiming at a wide audience, it's doubly astounding that the game doesn't have a multiplayer mode. Mini Ninjas would have been an incredible success if two tiny ninja people could have explored the full campaign together, battling badstuffs and sharing collection duties. Considering the relative simplicity of the animation and environments, there really is no excuse for the absence of a co-op mode. If there's a follow-up to Mini Ninjas, it should be first on the shopping list.

Despite the lack of multiplayer, the game is entertaining enough in its own right to be a success. Though unlikely to last more than 10-15 hours, including all the collection tasks, the game is enjoyable enough to warrant multiple plays, and it's the sort of thing that's worth dipping back into every so often just to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. With a clearer focus on a particular target audience, a multiplayer campaign and a few more varied levels, Mini Ninjas could have been amazing. As it is, the game is still a nice addition, and a wortwhile distraction for a short time.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Eidos Interactive

Developer:

IO Interactive

Players:

1

Online:

None

Release:

2009-09-11

Trophies:

36

Review summary

Gameplay:

Entertaining and, look away now, cute

Graphics:

Simple but extremely vibrant

Sound:

Also basic, but once again entertaining

Lastability:

A medium length adventure

7.8

Volcanic

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