Not too long ago, a videogame geared towards children would almost automatically mean it was nothing more than a superficial, paper thin experience for consumers, even though some of those games were a lot of fun for both kids and adults alike. We think back to all those games based on Disney animated movies, and the assortment of titles from industry giants such as Nintendo – but today, a lot of games that seem intended for kids are actually very good. One such gem found its way into our hands, and we were quite surprised at how much fun we had playing a game featuring miniature ninjas and samurais.
Mini Ninjas comes from the development team behind the Hitman series, Io Interactive, and is published by Eidos. As such, the game is a welcome departure from the usual heavy-handed titles, but although it’s a light affair, there’s heaps more to Mini Ninjas than the cutesy characters, and huggable animals that inhabit the ninjas’ world. It’s a game with stunning visuals, a beautiful soundtrack, and wonderful story development. Even though the game seems geared towards children, adults will find plenty to enjoy in this surprisingly well-crafted action romp.
The first thing you’ll notice about Mini Ninjas is the adorable graphics. Right away you feel whisked away to a Japanese mountain community of ninjas. In classic samurai and ninja style, you’ll find flooded rice fields, lush bamboo forests, Kanji dotted notes and sign posts, gorgeous red and purple sunsets, dense white blizzards, and temples with clay-tile roofs. Each level is original, and the art style is reminiscent of a watercolor painting. The cut scenes only give you more to feast on with clever dialogue that will likely get a chuckle out of adults.
At its heart, Mini Ninjas is an action-platformer. In all likelihood, you’ve played games like this before. In the beginning stages of the adventure, combat mechanics essentially boil down to nothing more than button mashing. There’s a light dose of puzzles, but you won’t spend much time trying to solve them. You have your share of magic, companions to help you fight, potions to mix and craft, and upgrades for your health and more. Very little of the extra characters, magic, and upgrades are necessary for you to advance through the levels, but they add a nice layer of intrigue and adaptability.
Regardless, don’t let the fundamental gameplay elements steer you away from Io Interactive’s loveable Ninja parade, as despite its simplicity, the game positively oozes charm. Where Mini Ninjas really stands out is in its presentation and storytelling. The plot is relatively simple. The Evil Samurai Warlord has ascended upon the tranquil empire from the depths of 300-year banishment. Upon his return he uses the forbidden Kuji magic to transform animal folk into legions of samurai warriors. This disturbance in the balance of nature sparks the Ninja Master to gather his finest students, Hiro and Futo, to investigate.
You take control of the Ninja Master’s students, primarily Hiro, but you have up to six characters to play with. Shrines scattered throughout the region offer Hiro the ability to learn new spells, including a tornado, fireballs, and a wall of wind. Levels are filled with various objects to pick up, some are for crafting potions and bombs, and others seem more for aesthetic purposes. It should also be noted that the game supports Trophies. Meanwhile, the ninjas can equip a hat that doubles as a boat or sled, depending on the needs. Some of the best levels involved outrunning an avalanche as you sled down a giant mountain in your hat – it was a great rush of adrenaline in an otherwise peaceful game.
And peaceful is a great way to describe this game. The music is calming and the gameplay is basic enough to not feel overly involved. Still, even though we were utterly captivated by our short stealthy friends, there’s still a few niggles to speak of. Our biggest gripe with Mini Ninjas is the lack of co-op action. The game just screams for cooperative gameplay, either locally, or online. We are also disappointed that we managed to zip through the game so fast and efficiently – even though Mini Ninjas retails for $49.99 USD, we would have liked to get a little more bang for our buck.
We understand that this title is probably not at the top of many gamer’s lists, but we assure you there is plenty of fun to be had in this stylistic platformer. For its few missteps with the lack of co-op and the length of the game, we think this title will hold-up well against other games in this genre. If you go in expecting an intense gaming experience, you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a game that will make you laugh, give you a healthy dose of simplified action, and draw you in with its brilliant graphics and wonderfully stylized art style, Mini Ninjas is the perfect choice for you.