IO Interactive are better known for their Hitman series of games and more recently, Kane and Lynch and so it comes as a bit of a surprise to see that they’ve embarked on a third person action game which ditches the gritty realism of said games and goes straight for the cute jugular in Mini Ninjas. For sure, ninjas are always cool, same as pirates yet slap on the prefix mini and you have instant images of dinky characters with swords and shruikens. Well effectively that’s what you get with Mini Ninjas but with so many games opting to provide the most realistic experiences ever, it’s good to see that some developers are keeping their tongues firmly in cheeks to provide not only a fun game, but one that’s just as action packed as its realistic brethren.
In game you begin your adventures controlling the rather skilled ninja Hiro as he undertakes a mission to rescue his comrades from the clutches of the evil samurai who are ransacking the lands and causing much disturbance for the locals. The Samurai are your one and only enemy, yet they come in all shapes and sizes, requiring different approaches in how you deal with them. The combat is a huge slice of the gameplay and although on the whole it’s not vital to switch between the other characters you gather on your travels, certain enemy types are better suited to particular characters. You’ll eventually free 5 other characters which you can then use at free will, each displaying their own traits making for slightly different combat nuances. Shun for example is an expert with the bow and is more suited for taking down troublesome foes from afar. Futo on the other hand is slower but much better at taking down the bigger opponents. It all gels well together and creates a sense of unity between the 6 heroes.
Aside from merely controlling the other heroes, Hiro can visit hidden temples and use magic attacks which easily makes him the most versatile of the mini ninja unit. These attacks range from fireballs to stomach churning tornadoes as well as the classic ninja disguise moving around inside a fake bush. You’re also able to use various weapons such as smoke bombs, caltrops and shurikens as well as potions to aid your combat effectiveness, yet to be honest on the default setting there’s really not much need to delve too deeply using these items.
The biggest draw of the game aside from the combat is the navigation element. There are some interesting locales to traverse and although the game opts for a more linear approach, you’ll find some surprises off the beaten track once in a while. You’ll also come across some minor platforming elements which breaks up the fighting and puts those ninja jumping skills to the test.
Stealth doesn’t really play too much of a part in this game although it is there in the most subtle of ways; but mostly you’ll be getting into fights with one or more samurai at a time making the stealth requiring perhaps a little too much patience and hit and run tactics.
As mentioned, slap the word mini on anything and you’ve got cute right out of the bag. Mini Ninjas looks very basic on the surface, using simple colours and textures lacking in detail, yet this is obviously the artistic direction the developers were aiming for and works perfectly for the type of game it is. The main characters are distinctive and the locales varied enough to keep you interested despite the lack of overall detail. Combat and movement is very smooth and there’s not really much to fault bar some camera issues in confined spaces.
The audio is functional more than anything, providing a steady backdrop of sounds to accompany the running around and fighting. There’s some spot music from time to time which lifts the mood but overall the game’s aural pallet is quite sparse. The game offers quite the solitary experience which means you won’t be hearing banter between the characters under your control, in fact they don’t talk at all, such is the life of the mouth covered and focused ninja. You will be hearing lots of screaming samurai though to make up for it.
The game offers some solid hours of entertainment clocking in way over average and offering lots of distractions to prolong the experience if you’re a completionist. You’ve got statues to hunt down, animals to rescue from cages and hidden temples to find on top of beating the game on a harder setting if you want to replay once beaten.
The question has to be asked whether Mini Ninjas is aimed at the younger gamer or not, the answer not being so clear cut. The game isn’t hard to play and very relaxing to get into, making a welcome change to the gaming complexities on offer elsewhere. Young or old there’s certainly lots of entertainment to be had from the game but for those looking for a decent challenge might want to up the difficulty from the get go. Mini Ninjas is an accessible game and one that feels comfortable not going over the top and merely offering an action adventure that’s palatable, not so serious and one that keeps things simple on all levels. It’s an enjoyable romp and one that’s worth looking into if you’ve got younger gamers or are looking for a game that will keep you entertained without teasing your frustration levels.