In an era where shovelware and casual action titles are developed for every system imaginable, it’s hard not to write off the plain looking Mini Ninjas based off the boxart. For all intents and purposes, it looks very similar to Brave: A Warrior’s Tale, which represented everything wrong with current 3D action titles.
Despite my initial negative stigma towards the game, I’m pleased to say that Mini Ninjas overcomes its’ stereotype, and is actually a rather enjoyable and adorable romp.
Simply put, Mini Ninjas is a level based action-adventure title that puts you into the shoes of Hiro and his friends on an epic quest to destroy the evil Samurai Warlord. Along the way, you can pick up various ingredients to use in aquired recipes, save some cute critters Sonic style, seek out hidden spells and find collectible idols.
Mixing its’ unique cartoonish graphics with beautifully painted backdrops, Mini Ninjas is able to differentiate itself from other titles, even if the visuals aren’t cream of the crop. There’s no slowdown to be seen and there’s enough unique enemy designs to go around without feeling bored.
The achilles heel of many action games can either be a bad camera, or bad controls: neither of which Mini Ninjas suffers from. Everything feels so tight and responsive, from the menu screens to combat. In fact, the only time that I had a bit of control trouble was during the game’s sparing water padding scenes.
Speaking of the tight controls: combat is fairly robust. You can use magic, items or plain old fashioned swordplay when fighting your enemies. Through the game’s various shops or containers, you can pick up items like smoke bombs, ninja stars, caltrops and the like. As you progress through the game, you’ll save Hiro’s ninja friends, who give you access to weapons like bows, spears and claws. In addition to taking your enemies head on, it’s also possible to clear some stages without being seen at all! Using the left trigger, Hiro and his friends can sneak in tall grass, executing stealth kills at the press of a button.
But don’t worry! Enemies won’t die in a bloody mess: in classic Sonic The Hedgehog fashion, with a puff of smoke, they’ll transform into a woodland creature, which you can then possess. Although only the boars and bears have any actual utility, it’s still fun to mess around with them from time to time. The Magic system itself is pretty fun to utilize, as most of the spells are completely optional and hidden throughout the level’s nooks and crannies. You’ll get to use a whole host of different spells, from “ninja bush stealth” to lighting bolt rain.
The biggest problem Mini Ninja‘s suffers from is the fact that it’s too orientated around Hiro, despite the attempt to include “friends” for the mere fun of it. For starters, only he can use magic, which really alienates the usage of your partners right off the bat. Additionally, only Hiro can fight bosses, and really, he’s just the jack of all trades in general, meaning you don’t actually need to use your friends. Essentially the aforementioned mechanics water down your “additional characters” into weapons, which is a shame, because the movies that introduce the other ninjas is Dreamworks worthy, and contains a ton of charm.
To go along with the great visuals, surprisingly, Mini Ninjas’ soundtrack is quite good. Whether it be intense drums, or music reminisicent of various hollywood karate blockbusters, your ears will never get bored. The voice acting and sound effects are also above and beyond the call of duty. I can’t get enough of the high pitched enemy scream “Ni-ni-ni-ni-niiiiinja!!!!”, and every sword clang and arrow “woosh” is faithfully recreated.
Mini Ninjas is a bit on the short side, as the game’s length ranges anywhere between 6-8 hours, depending on how obessed you are with hunting down collectibles and saving animals. After you’re done, you can have at the hard difficulty setting or go back to individual levels and grab everything you missed: that’s about it.
Unforunately, the only things you can unlock are some intro movies for each ninja, and while they’re very entertaining, those will only last you about 10 minutes total. In terms of the game’s difficulty, I found it comfortably adequate on normal, just don’t expect it to be super hard if you’re a hardcore action fan. There’s also an easy difficulty available for youngsters.
While Mini Ninjas is an enjoyable experience, besides the charm and solid gameplay, you won’t really find anything completely new, but it’s definately worth checking out. Coming from an action junkie (and someone who’s seen quite a few bad action games), I’d recommend it to just about anyone as a rental. Mini Ninjas is “Ninja Gaiden Jr.”, and that’s not at all a bad thing.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
It's a shame that the character cutscenes are underutilized, but the game's slick visuals combined with painted backdrops make for a pretty entertaining experience. Also, the enemy models are excellent!
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While the controls are tight, and the gameplay is fun, Mini Ninjas doesn't really strive to do anything out of the ordinary. Also, your ninja friend's effects are marginalized due to Hiro's extreme amount of power.
You'll find a lot of the tracks are very reminiscent of classic kung-fu films (in a good way), and the enemy voice acting is to die for.
Mini Ninjas might only be $49.99, but with a playtime of 10 hours at a maximum and no big extras, there isn't really much value here.
Mini Ninjas really took me by surprise as a serviceable "Ninja Gaiden Jr.", despite its problems and short length.