Villains will never seem to learn that turning furry woodland critters into minions is not a viable plan for global domination. Dr. Eggman has been doing it for decades and it surely hasn’t gotten him anywhere, and now the Evil Samurai Warlord of Mini Ninjas has picked up the cause. Sure, his animal-turned-samurai armies are hungry for a fight, but they lack the training necessary to withstand a certain crafty band of ninjas.
As the game begins you’ll take control of Hiro, the youngest of the ninja. Your master will instruct you on the great peril facing the land, advising you to seek out and rescue the rest of your band of ninja, who have failed to return from their own attempts to stop the Evil Samurai Warlord. When you’re first getting accustomed to the world of Mini Ninjas it can be very easy to pass the game off as just another kid’s game. Sure the characters are adorable (enemies included), the sound effects cute and the graphics simple, but hidden underneath Mini Ninjas’ cuddly exterior is a satisfying action/adventure for all ages.
What sets Mini Ninjas immediately apart from other all-ages titles is the large list of abilities available to Hiro, and the other ninja you acquire. In addition to Hiro’s normal attack combos he has the ability to sneak up on enemies and finish them off with a stealth attack. As the adventure progresses he’ll track down a number of different Kuji Magic scrolls, which allow him a wide variety of spells including a bush he can summon to hide in (exactly like the cardboard box in MGS), a lightning storm to attack large groups of enemies and the ability to possess small animals, allowing you to sniff out items easily and wander around without drawing as much attention to yourself. If the stealth gameplay and magic aren’t enough, each of the ninja has a different special attack which is useful in a wide range of situations.
One place Mini Ninjas falters is in the implementation of its stealth gameplay. Io Interactive went to great lengths to make stealth a viable and fun way to play, thanks to the glut of rooftops to hide on and the wealth of high grass to crawl through but there isn’t any real motivation to play in this manner. In fact, it’s in your best interest to be seen and engage as many enemies as possible because once an enemy is defeated it drops experience points which are necessary to level up. The only other way to accumulate experience is by freeing the many caged animals scattered throughout Mini Ninjas’ numerous levels, but even then they’re always protected by guards so you’ll have to break cover to save them.
During your adventure there will be a number of things to scout out in addition to the caged animals. Although the stages of Mini Ninjas are in general linear, there are often a number of paths to explore, often hiding one of the many collectible items to be found or revealing a different path to the goal. Alternate paths will often times be the preferred path for the stealthy ninja while the obvious path will be for the combat focused. Thanks to the wide breadth of magic and skills available, fights can often be played in a variety of unique manners that keep combat fresh throughout your quest. However there is one notable aspect of Mini Ninjas’ combat that doesn’t live up to the overall quality of the title, and that is the boss battles. Just like the rest of the enemies, the bosses themselves are well designed in an aesthetic sense but each one boils down to three series of QTEs. It’s one thing in action games where you wear down an enemy through conventional attack methods and then finish the fight in a stylized QTE but it’s very disappointing when a boss consists solely of dodge, attack, initiate QTE. Even if the bosses had just been given traditional attack patterns to learn it’d be a significant improvement over what’s there now.
The only other complaint to be made about Mini Ninjas is the overall replayability of the title. If you take your time on your first pass you can easily find upwards of 90% of all the items tucked away in the various nooks and crannies of the game. On the other hand, if you really put your mind to it and try to dash straight to each level’s goal you could easily finish the game in a couple of sittings. It would have been nice to have seen a little extra incentive to replay the levels beyond the collect-a-quest. Given the solid stealth mechanics, a time trial mode with online leaderboards could have really kept players coming back to hone their sneaking and shave as many seconds as possible off each dash.
Mini Ninjas is an extremely charming action/adventure game that should appeal to gamers of all ages and styles. The simple infectious antics of these ninja will appeal to the younger player, while the wide variety of ways to approach combat and stealth should entertain the more seasoned player. The experience is marred slightly by the lame boss encounters, short length and lack of reason to remain hidden, but these issues shouldn’t deter you from checking these ninja out.