It seems if you throw anything remotely linked to ninjas into a game, it boosts its appeal tenfold, or maybe I am just pigeonholing myself into this assumption… Either way, ninjas are just awesome! So much so that when I first caught glimpse of Mini Ninjas’ cute characters it was love at first sight – ahem.
The story of Mini Ninjas is a fairly simple affair. The Evil Samurai Warlord has returned. Using the sacred Kuji magic, the Evil Warlord unsettles the balance of nature by transforming innocent animals into mindless samurai warriors, who are poised to do his evil bidding in order to help him take over the world. Meanwhile up on Ninja Mountain, the Ninja Master sends his finest ninjas to discover what the Evil Warlord is up to, yet no matter how many ninjas were sent, neither of them return. This leaves the Master with only two left - Hiro and Futo. The fate of the world now rests on the tiny ninjas as they are sent by the Master to defeat the Evil Warlord, and so the story begins. Once your character Hiro is taught the various ways of the Ninja he is sent on his way, across various locations, defeating countless waves of warriors and saving your captured ninja buddies along the way.
Controlling Hiro is simple. Attacks come in a variety of mashing the attack button, through to carefully selecting one of five slots to assign your collected Kuji magic too. Kuji magic scrolls are collected by finding hidden shrines throughout the game, and bring various levels of smack-down to your enemy samurai warriors. Magic spells range from projectile fireballs and invisibility, through to lightening strikes (my personal favourite) and magic that lets you repossess the cute little animals that roam the land around you.
These magical ranged attacks compliment your quite limited short-range melee attacks. Each ninja you successfully rescue on your quest can be selected by holding down the shoulder button and selecting the available ninjas that are currently unlocked, taping the same button once brings you back to Hiro – your default character, and the only character that can use Kuji magic with.
Each of the five ninjas that you can control have some form of melee weapon. Hiro wields a samurai sword. Futo, the plumpest of all the ninjas, has a slow yet powerful large hammer. Suzume is a fast and agile ninja, equipped with an iron flute, that she can play to hypnotize her foe into a trance before bashing them into a pulp. Tora is another fast ninja, his size and agility reminds me of Yoda a little bit. Mashing the attack button will make him use his tiger-like hand claws, which when over used can send him into a Tasmanian Devil fighting frenzy. Holding down the run button can send Tora into a tiger-like gallop and helps cover ground fairly quickly. Kunoichi has a good medium-range attack, as she wields a fairly long spear. Holding down her more powerful attack will make her spin this spear in a gymnastic baton style, this helps with defeating large tight groups of warriors that you tend to come across quite frequently. Lastly there is Shun, who is equipped with a bow and arrow, making him the only ninja with a range weapon attack. This makes him more venerable to melee attacks, and I found that I only used him to attack distant enemies that were out of reach or when I needed to attack from a distance during low health.
All in all each character has their own merits and flaws, but seeing as you can only use Kuji magic with Hiro, you do tend to play through the whole game mostly playing as him. This is a shame, as playing through each could have enhanced the game’s longevity, where each ninja could have their own story to tell. There are achievements in the game asking you to play through each level using Futo, but other than that there is no real reason to be using the other characters other than to have a change of fighting style or someone different to look at and play with. Looking back, through my entire play-through, I barely used Futo or Suzume.
Throughout your quest you visit quite a variety of locations from paddy fields to snow caped mountains, each one resulting in a boss type scenario (hey, it wouldn’t be a game without bosses, right?). Each boss complements the art and the tongue-in-cheek humour that oozes throughout this game, making this game just a joy to play while raising a few smiles and even some laughs. Defeating a boss by pulling down his trousers or making them smell their own farts are just two examples of the fun and humour present in the game. Each boss contains micro Quick Time Event cinematic scenes, which are used to bring the bosses health down each time they are successfully completed. Achieving this three times in a row defeats the boss and ends that particular part of the quest followed by a comedic cut scene. It is a simple and commonly used mechanic, but this sums up Mini Ninjas - a game that is enjoyable to play through and is never a taxing one.
Completionists are served a dollop of collecting that feature throughout the game. With Kuji magic shrines to find and scrolls to collect. There is also plenty of flora and fauna to collect around the world, once collected you can use these to mix together and make additional health potions and the like. On the achievement front, playing through the game will earn you around 400 GameScore, with the remaining 600 based on collecting items in each location through to playing as certain characters or animals in the game.
Its developers, IO Interactive, could have easily taken a more mature route with this game. With no real gore, blood or decapitations to be found in the game, Mini Ninjas is clearly aimed towards the younger gamer. However, even with its simple cartoon Wii-esque visuals and simple child-like gameplay, Mini Ninjas still holds its own, no matter what age you may be. Think of it as Ninja Gaiden with a U certificate, featuring a lot of comedic elements and a good dose of classic gameplay, which will kill a fair few hours. Oh, and it has ninjas, we love ninjas, so that means it is a must buy surely.