|NUMBER OF PLAYERS|
BUY NOW AT
IO Interactive has spent much of the last decade working on violent games clearly meant for older audiences. With the Hitman franchise being its main claim to fame, developing a game like Mini Ninjas might seem like a bit of a strange move on IO’s part; not many developers bother shifting from modern crime dramas starring hardened assassins to a whimsical, Japanese inspired adventure featuring some of the cutest ninjas gaming has ever seen. Regardless, the end result has definitely justified this deviation.
At first glance Mini Ninjas appears to be targeted towards a younger demographic, but the cel-shaded graphics and cute characters hide a very Nintendo-like quality that makes the game great for just about anybody who enjoys a good action-adventure experience. The overall style best exemplifies this dualistic nature; children will enjoy the cartoon styling but more mature gamers will be mesmerized by the more beautiful aspects of the art style. The environments in particular are outstanding with the larger, open areas best capturing the artists’ interpretation of medieval Japan. For example, one level features a flooded farming village at sunset and looking upon this vista from the valley above can be quite breathtaking. On the technical side of things, this is accomplished with a fairly long draw distance and great lighting effects, though the occasional blurry texture and instance of pop-in does prove mildly distracting from time to time.
Mini Ninjas' core gameplay doesn’t quite fare as well as the graphics, largely because there are a few more blemishes and it doesn’t feel quite as inspired. In general, the controls do a solid job of balancing traditional and motion based gameplay; most maneuvers and attacks are handled with buttons, while waggling is reserved for context sensitive moves and power attacks. The best use of the Wii Remote comes while casting particular spells and using some items that use the pointer for aiming: the overall implementation is without fault.
While the controls are solid throughout, much of the game suffers from several minor but persistent problems. Mini Ninjas features six playable characters and over a dozen spells, and while this might sound like a great deal of variety, only a few of the characters offer significant differences in play style and only of a handful of the spells actually prove useful. This lack of meaningful variety effectively limits Mini Ninjas to two main modes of play: action and stealth. Thankfully, both of these gameplay types are executed quite well.
Combat could benefit from a lock-on option and some of the enemies have rather cheap attacks, but fighting throughout Mini Ninjas remains well balanced between hectic brawling and strategic action. The stealth mechanics are also integrated very well, even if they are quite basic, but the fact that the game transitions from one into the other so smoothly makes the apparent lack of depth less of a drawback. Gamers who take the time to explore the stealth aspect of Mini Ninjas more thoroughly will discover that most combat situations can be made much easier or even completely avoided. Considering how well both of these mechanics work, the boss battles are surprisingly disappointing; while the design and scope of some are unique, only one takes advantage of stealth and all boil down to quick time events featuring a few button presses and plenty of waggle. However, the bosses are not enough to drag down the experience as a whole.
The overall structure of Mini Ninjas is almost as sharp as the characters’ blades. While much of the game is quite linear, hidden paths leading to shortcuts and new spells give players a reason to explore, and most levels open up at one point or another to reveal sprawling fields, castles and villages. These open areas offer the best opportunities to play around with the stealth mechanics and give players a way of creating their own path through the level. Younger gamers won’t have to worry too much about becoming lost (and a single button press will conjure an arrow pointing to the next objective if they do), while more experienced gamers should have fun exploring the levels and finding all the secrets. The only bad part is that Mini Ninjas clocks in at the average length for most modern adventures, 10-12 hours.
Though Mini Ninjas might be somewhat hard to distinguish from all of the kid targeted shovelware eating up retailer shelf space, it is definitely worth taking a closer look. Kids will be able to play through with minimal frustration while enjoying the charming sights and sounds, and adults will appreciate the solid gameplay, excellent level design, and great attention to detail. Anybody shopping for a younger gamer should definitely give Mini Ninjas some serious consideration, and hardcore Wii gamers starving for a good adventure might want to look into it for some unexpected fun.
Staff Profile | Email
"There's SAND on my boots!"