Mini Ninjas Review

Lee Abrahams

It would certainly have taken quite a leap of imagination to think that a cute game about tiny martial artists would have been next up for the makers of the compelling and violent Hitman series. No one can doubt the quality that Hitman carries, so surely it would not be too hard to transfer that panache to something as simple as a family title. Not to mention the fact that everybody loves ninjas – and if they say otherwise then I can only assume they are dead inside.

He who smelt it, dealt it.

Obviously for a developer to leap from games meant specifically for mature audiences to what is fundamentally a kids title is no small feat, and it would be easy for IO Interactive to sit back and take things easily. Instead they have tried to craft a game that has a number of unique attributes while at the same time still being remarkably easy to just pick up and play. However, it is starting to seem like most family titles are occupying the same niche of combat and exploration, with titles like Kung Fu Panda, the LEGO titles and Ice Age to name but a few. So is there room in the market for a game that offers only one or two minor tweaks on the standard formula?

Unlike the majority of kids games this one cannot simply rely on being a movie tie in or having a familiar pre-written character that will be instantly recognizable to the masses. Instead IO have crafted a cute cast of tiny ninjas all ready, willing and able to dish out some punishment. The story is no great shakes, as an evil warlord threatens the land and has turned a variety of cute animals into his own army of evil. Sensing unrest in the land a wise sensei sends out his most trusted pupil to discover the cause, and when the student fails to return then he sends out another ninja, and another, and another. Finally he is down to his last two disciples, the strong but bumbling Futo and the mystical but unprepared Hiro – and it is down to them to find their missing comrades and resolve the issues plaguing the land. The story is functional at best but thankfully the characters have enough about them to keep you interested.

You start with the mystical powers of Hiro and the brute strength of Futo at your disposal, and you must use them wisely to beat a path through the evil (yet cute) armies of the warlord. Hiro has the ability to use magic, which makes him unique amongst his team mates, and can use it to destroy his foes, stun them, slow time and even turn into a shrub – I assure you that ability is more useful than it sounds. His key power though is the ability to hop into the bodies of nearby animals which allows you to see useful items and sneak around relatively unhindered. With combat restricted to pretty much two buttons it is hardly a complicated affair, though you can spruce up the action with a variety of special attacks and weaponry in typical ninja style. Shurikens, caltrops, smoke bombs and more are at your disposal and each is designed to make your life a little easier, plus you have the traditional ninja sneakiness to get the drop on your foes.

Enemies that disappear in a puff of smoke – as you do.

As you progress you can find new spells, items and allies to flesh out your arsenal. You can also do a little foraging for herbs which allows you to mix up your own healing potions, magical restoratives and even burping sauce. Lovely. Your allies all have their own unique abilities and weapons, from the agile archer to the bouncy tiger impersonator. The major difference comes in the form of each of their special moves. Hiro can target and attack multiple foes, while Suzume uses her flute to hypnotise nearby foes – each use of these powers will cost you though and then you will have to find more power from fallen foes or rustle up one of the rarer potions. You will also run into Tengu allies along your travels who can sell you new items and herb recipes, as well as give you some guidance on your journey. Don't forget your trusty hat though, which can shield you from arrows and also act as an improvised boat, should you wish to do a spot of fishing.

Most of the game follows the same pattern. You explore lush landscapes in the search for useful items and collectables, while battling foes along the way. Every few levels or so you will have to battle a boss, but these scenes are somewhat of a disappointment due to their sheer simplicity. Each boss only has a few standard attacks and can be defeated by repeating a fairly easy timed button sequence a few times. Barring a major miscalculation you should breeze through these 'major' fights without taking so much as a hit – which is surely not right as a representation of a life and death struggle. It is also quite disappointing how few enemy models there are, with just a few blue and red versions of about five standard enemy types. Hardly pushing the boat out.

The game is a lot of fun to play but the variety is just not there. Aside from a couple of levels that see you wrestling against rapids and sliding down a mountain away from a raging avalanche the game never really mixes things up. Instead you will still be doing the same mix of sneaking, fighting and magic from beginning to end. It is also odd that a game geared towards kids which features six charming ninjas does not have some kind of co-op play, as that would surely have made jogging through the countryside a little bit more endearing.

Brown bear = brown trousers time.

Visually the game is cute but never stunning and the landscapes tend to become a bit generic and dull. Thankfully you can never wander too far off the beaten path, but it is not too long before you have seen everything the game has to offer. The game also seems confused about whether it should be funny or serious, as generally the gameplay follows strict rules, but then you may well stumble across a farting boss, or find sneaking around as a bush. Aside from a few touches of physical humour though, it is all very straight laced and the lack of dialogue and cut-scenes are the main reason for this. You can unlock little intros for each of the characters as you progress, but they can only be found on the "Extras" menu, when they would have made the perfect in-game tonic. The brevity of the script also means that the voice acting sections are few and far between plus the background music is rather bland.

The achievements are fairly typical for a family title; plenty of points for natural progression, a good chunk for completion (especially if you play through on hard – which really is not that tough) and then the rest for fun little tasks. Everything seems fairly well balanced until you realize that nearly a third of the points on offer are for collectables alone, which seems far too many. Most of your time will be spent finding statues, caged animals and ingredients rather than just having a good time. Thankfully none of them are too hard to find, but the play time of the game would probably be cut in half if they were not present. That being said, there are never too many per level and the other more amusing tasks help alleviate the pain – like crushing an enemy while in snowball form or navigating rapids without damage.

Overall this is a perfect game for the kids and one that matches up well against some of the better family orientated offerings that have graced the 360 thus far. Nothing here is overly original or taxing but it all comes together to provide a good few hours of fun. A bit more work could have gone into the story most notably into the humour, which seems strangely lacking at times, but you could certainly do a lot worse than this. The game is easy to pick up and play and offers enough fun and variety to keep you entertained. No doubt you will argue that you bought it for the kids, but don't be suprised to find yourself mildly entertained by sneaking around inside a bunny.

The voice work is charming but fairly generic in terms of plot, and the music, while decent, seems non-existent at times.

A game that is almost saccharine sweet in terms of cuteness but thankfully all of the characters have enough personality to win through and make the art style work. There are far too few enemies though and fighting the same ones over and over soon gets repetitive.

Easy to pick up and play, plus the learning curve is ideal for younger gamers. New skills and characters are perfectly placed to keep things interesting, although you may well get tired of the same formula of gameplay level after level.

A story that has been seen countless times before but one that is presented in such a way that you cannot help but be drawn in and have a good time. Sadly you will probably only ever play the game once and then never come back – but that one playthrough is well worth your time.

A bog standard list but one that has far too many points firmly in the collectables corner. Thankfully the little blighters are not too taxing to find but it does detract from the game some what. Other than that, you can rack up quick points just running through the game on Hard and beating up all of the bosses. A nice, easy one thousand points.

A perfect game for the kids but with enough fun to keep the adults entertained as well. You will never feel too taxed or too engrossed for that matter but the cute charm of the game shines through and means there is plenty of entertainment to be had.

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