Mini Ninjas is a title that has undoubtedly slipped through your web of releases unless you were following it very closely. I must admit to having completely disregarded this one originally – it had that appearance of a kids game – like one of those Pixar titles that accompany a new movie and are basically geared towards Trophy collectors or children.
Surprisingly, I was completely wrong about the game, a fact that hit me hard when curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded the demo from the Playstation Store.
What ensued was a good 20 minutes of enjoyment, handing over the controller to my partner, who proceeded to put another 35 minutes or so into exploring and conquering the demo yet again – before she finally gave it back – then finally the decision that I’d have to give this game a chance on launch.
While it is a kids game at heart, there’s plenty of appeal for adults too.
Mini Ninjas’ story is a simple and somewhat clichéd one. Hundreds of years after an evil Samurai Warlord is banished from the land – and long after the generations have gone back to living quiet lives, a disturbance in nature is felt by your village elder. Ninja Master begins sending his students out to investigate this disturbance, but as time passes, the students fail to return or report back to their Master.
Eventually, the Ninja Master is left with no other choice but to send his most inexperienced Ninja into the fray. Hiro and Futo, the main heroes of this number are charged with heading out to not only find and eliminate the source of the disturbance, but also to discover the fate of your missing Ninja comrades.
The controls in Mini Ninjas are surprisingly easy to pick up and play, yet manage an intuitive multitude of features for the advanced users who want something a little more than a simple hack & slash.
Combat itself is very basic and definitely not for fans of Ninja Gaiden or other extensively combo-driven fighters. Mini Ninjas consists of a handful of moves limited to a few attacks per character. There’s your Primary Attack (Hiro for example has the trademark sword slash), Block Breaker Attack (a special ‘stun’ attack, useful against foes with melee weapons such as spears, or for sneaking up on enemies and achieving critical damage) and a Power Attack.
Each character has a particular specialty, Hiro – swords, Shun – the bow & arrow for example, which replace the respective Primary Attacks. Unique to each character though, is their Power Attack.
After defeating certain enemies, they release something called ‘Unstable Ki Energy’ which can be collected by your Ninja and used as one of these Power Attacks. This special attack is like the fatality of the Mini Ninjas world. By charging the Triangle button, Hiro leaps into the air, freezes time, allowing you to target numerous enemies in a maneuverable reticle. When selection is complete, time resumes and Hiro executes a devastating slicing barrage on the enemies selected. The result is a drained sphere of Unstable Ki Energy – and generally a path clear of enemies.
The game is Mini Ninjas though, so it won’t always be about face-to-face combat. Sure enough, there are always alternate ways to get around hordes of enemies. Every one of your Ninjas can move into a stealth mode, simply by holding L2. Through this action, your character can move completely silently, as well as hiding amongst tall grass and bushes, making him or her completely invisible to even the most cautious of enemy types. You then have the option of completely ignoring enemies in some circumstances, or sneaking up and performing your surprise attacks.
Some sections of the game have sequences where you can also move along rooftops, or use the sprint ability to simply run away from the enemy and/or seek cover elsewhere.
While all of the characters have a particular specialty that comes in handy for certain enemy types (a “Large One” for example is a massive, hulk of an enemy who can only be defeated with heavy blows from Futo’s hammer), your default Ninja, Hiro, is absolutely the leader of the team for his ability to use Kuji magic.
Kuji Magic is the ability to “manipulate nature, possess animals, stop time and make campfires really fast.” A fact we’re given in one of the game’s funny little character vignettes. What this means for the game though, is an absolute multitude of option.
The brilliant part of Mini Ninjas is its ability to appeal to everyone. You could quite easy have a child play the game, run around slashing – do nothing more and still have an amazing time. For those of us with a little more gaming prowess though, or adults who have come to expect some diversity from their games, you can summon up a whole host of magical powers – for example, Fireballs, Lightning Storms for the offensive – or Light Aura to stop evil spirits in their tracks.
Hiro also possesses the ability to take on the form of any animal in the area, allowing him to infiltrate temples and castles with even less possibility of being discovered.
One of your powers learned earlier on allows you to cast a group of magical butterflies who lead you to sacred shrines. These ancient shrines hold the secrets of the powerful Kuji magic, hidden away long ago. Discovering these secret shrines and coupling them with a special Anemone flower located somewhere nearby, unlocks new spells and powers for Hiro to use.
Throughout the game you collect plants, fruits and flowers around the areas, which can be used as ingredients for items like Healing Potions, Ginseng and other miscellaneous tonics. In order to mix recipes, you must first purchase the actual recipe from one of the Tengu – the vendors of the Mini Ninjas world. Certain Tengu elders sell you all sorts of recipes and even weapons.
Mini Ninjas inventory, collection and preparation
Also hidden (sometimes VERY well) within the levels, are the Jizo statues. While they offer no bonus, they are an addictive collectible and naturally, finding them all awards Trophy progress too.
The story is wonderfully colourful and its complemented by a solid game play mechanic with plenty of option and loads of stuff to keep you side-tracked.
Graphics & Sound
The art style in Mini Ninjas is absolutely gorgeous. It has this kind of cel-shaded feel about it, sans the black edges. There’s lots of vibrant colour in everything you see, from the character models to the tall blades of grass that you use to conceal yourself.
Even the darker, weather-interrupted/night levels have this adorable, bubbly, appearance about them. Its hard not to like the art direction that IO Interactive have taken with Mini Ninjas.
All of the traditional Japanese architecture can be found in the game’s abundance of temples and villages. They’re all rendered in glorious detail and absolute authenticity, but also coincide neatly with the art style.
You often find yourself wandering through thick bamboo forests, looking for fruit and Jizo statues. Suddenly you’ll emerge at a cliff edge and you can jump into a series of rapids, using your multi-purpose hat as a mini boat of sorts. Floating through canyons lined with Cherry Blossoms you can eventually emerge overlooking snow-topped mountains, or a creepy old cemetery filled with spooky apparitions and specters.
Falling Cherry Blossom flowers add to the picturesque environments
There’s a breath-taking soundtrack to accompany this glorious visual style. The audio is used so well here. You’ll jump into stealth mode and the surround-sound is filled with the calming, magical sound of flutes and pipes. Then suddenly you’ll happen across a group of Samurai and the heavy bass of pounding drums fills the room, leading to an exciting crescendo as the battle commences.
It’s a title that needs to be heard as well as seen. And preferably up loud with surround-sound to do it all justice. IO Interactive have poured some serious love into this title and it shows. Passion and dedication oozes from Mini Ninjas at every turn. There’s nothing neglected, no stone unturned, no detail left to chance. Visually and aurally, its a treat.
As I run through more levels in Mini Ninjas, I struggle to find fault in the game. I mean sure, there are things it could have done additionally – a co-op mode would have been fantastic for added replayability, especially with the range of player-controlled Ninjas on offer.
Does Mini Ninjas really need it though? No. Its perfectly enjoyable just the way it is. It promises a fun experience for all ages and it definitely delivers.
Night. A perfect time for Ninjas to strike…
Mini Ninjas has dropped at probably the worst time of the year for releases, but of the dozen games I’ve played recently, Mini Ninjas manages to offer a mega experience. It is without a doubt one of the more memorable titles this year, not just because of its addictive game play, innovation or gorgeous art style – but because it manages to appeal to everyone. This is a game the whole family can play and thoroughly enjoy.
Its polished, its pretty and its fun. Its also completely finished – something that recent titles seem to be missing lately. It doesn’t need a patch straight out of the box. Plug-and-play and you’re away.
There’s something for everyone in Mini Ninjas. And its something I’m quite happy to keep enjoying for the holiday period.