Developer/Publisher: IO Interactive, Magic Pockets/Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros.
Platform: PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Mac OS X
Genre(s): Action-adventure, stealth
Mode(s): Singe player
Rating: ESRB: E10+
Time clocked: Around five hours
Ninjas never have it easy. Not even mini ones.
See, many moons ago, an evil samurai warlord was banished after too many evil deeds, and the empire in feudal Japan sat in peace and tranquility for a good, long while. But we all know that could only last so long; dark storms began to brew over distant mountaintops, floods and earthquakes became common happenings, and mysterious figures were caging wild animals for unknown purposes. Guess who’s back? Evil Samurai Warlord™, duh.
Growing worrisome, the Ninja Master, the classic relic-old being of supreme skill and wisdom seen in every ninja-related medium ever, sends out his best ninjas to discover the truth about the storms and what evil is stirring nearby. However, none return. With only two ninjas left under his chest-high belt, he reluctantly puts Hiro and Futo to the task of rescuing their friends and saving the world.
And that’s the plot in Mini Ninjas. There’s not much to it; no surprises, no twists, no explanations whatsoever on what these evil soldiers plan to do with all their caged animal friends. As Hiro, you sneak/fight forward until you battle one of the Evil Samurai Warlord’s henchmen, defeat it via a Quick Time Event (sigh), and continue on until the end of the game. The levels are structured as pseudo-open boxes, with multiple paths to explore, but ultimately only one will lead you to its end. A couple cutscenes show the ESW getting mad at his peons, offering a pinch of humor, but other than that, there’s little story being actually told here. Evil is evil, and good is good, and when they throw down arms, good will defeat evil (but only for a limited time).
There are six ninjas to play as, and unfortunately you don’t get the best one until near the game’s end. Each has their own set of skills and uses. Hiro can use Kuji magic and target multiple enemies at once; Futo wields a mallet and rolls into a ball to attack; Suzume plays an enchanting flute song; Shun specializes in bow and arrows, sniping soldiers from afar; Tora is part-tiger and a waste of character selection space; and lastly, Kunoichi, the spear wielder, is the best ninja next to Hiro thanks to her far reach. Each ninja is adorably designed, and unlocking them in-game rewards you with a special bonus video to watch that shows how they arrived at the Ninja Master’s dojo. These are so beautifully animated that it is jarring to the in-game’s visuals, which are, well…maybe a centimeter above the Nintendo Wii. My personal favorite character trailer is, not surprisingly, Kunoichi’s, as shown below:
Unfortunately, the challenge to save the world is no challenge at all. I started my playthrough on medium difficulty, the standard as it were, but switched to hard by midway through and found there to be little difference. The only time I ever died was when I miscalculated a ledge jump and plummeted down the abyss; only I didn’t actually die, but rather respawned on the ledge with one less heart to my name. So, uh, guess that doesn’t count. The enemies are not very tough, and only a couple require a specific strategy, such as the big guys or the stealthy ones. Plus, the alchemy here allows one to make a ton of healing potions, and there’s always a tree or bush of fruit at arms’ length. No worries, really.
What Mini Ninjas is though is charming and stylish, but a bit bland. Co-op (both local and online) is missing, and that’s a shame because it’s clearly a videogame designed to be played by parents and their kids. It would’ve been awesome for one player to scout ahead and another to circle around until the signal sounded and then they both attacked at once. I loved the tranquil music and style of it all, but found myself moving through it very fast, as well as a bit disappointed. The boss battles are a smelly joke, and yes, Boss Windy Pants, I’m talking mostly about you. I’d probably be even more disappointed if I shelled out $60.00 for this when it was first released, but I got this copy for around $20.00, and so it was a decent filler, a mediocre platformer, and a healthy reminder that not all good things come in small packages.