2009 Reviews

Mini Ninjas

  • Review Date: 2013-09
  • Release Date: 2009-09
  • Developer: IO Interactive
  • Rating: 6.5

While it may look like a cute, cuddly childrens game, its skeletal structure is just a plain and simple hack'n'slash third person action.

You play as Hiro, a sword and shuriken ninja child. As you progress through the game you unlock other characters which you can switch to with a menu click. Some have their benefits; Futo is slow but does heavy damage against a certain type of enemy, Shun the archer I played with a lot with his arrows picking off enemies from afar (being the only projectile weaponed character), Tora who feels quite quick at slicing through enemies with his blade fingers (think Wolverine). Suzume (with a stick) and Kuniochi (spear) I didn't find much use for though.

If this was it, Mini Ninjas would be extremely basic! Fortunately there's more: Kuji Magic. As you progress you unlock different spells, anything from lightning storms, fireballs, whirlwinds, sonic boom which can be unleashed upon enemies. To use them you need to collect energy leftover from dead enemies (as you would have guessed). You can't get carried away with spells and I tended to save them up for large groups or tougher enemies. You also have an alternate attack, again using special energy you can collect, where each character has their own attack.

A nice change is no regenerating health in Mini Ninjas. Instead you need to collect Health Potions or, more painstakingly spend about half an hour in the game fishing until you've got enough fish (which restore one health point) to not worry about it for the rest of the game.

But here lies the biggest problem with Mini Ninja's: the user interface isn't perfect. Most of the times I died in the game (about a dozen or less) was only because I hadn't seen my health go so low and didn't have time to quickly jump into the menu to apply health. Enemies can take your health down quite quickly if you're in a tough situation with arrows and rocket arrows being launched for a distance. What's needed is a key for applying health, not having to go through a menu which completely breaks up gameplay. The same applies for select Kuji Magic, this should have been done through a next/previous key to allow scrolling through spells, which should be separate from health and other items and in their own inventory.

My only other complaint with gameplay is that sometimes certain enemies don't work very well. There's too much blocking going on, and some enemies are just too slow paced to take down, such as the Spearmen that just stand there while you slowly pick each one off with an arrow. Or the Bug Guy, a slow, large Samurai that you can just run away from and wait for spells to kill him. The Ninja's are the most annoying, little teleporting dudes that almost always seem to hit you and I found very annoying to defeat when they were used in pairs, sometimes going through several fish (health) when I had to fight them. There must be a knack to it, but I didn't figure out the best way to defeat them.

The two enemies that do work are the Mage and Summoner, both of whom summon enemies until you defeat them so it's a very frantic battle trying to defeat them as fast as possible.

Some complaints from other reviews are about it being too simple. I don't really see the gameplay as being that simple; we've got several characters, a dozen spells, lots of alternate attacks, several different kinds of enemies. That's not that simple. What it is, is tiring. By the end of the game (10 hours) I'd pretty much had enough. The gameplay had become tiring and any longer than 10 hours would have been too long. And this is coming off playing Call of Juarez (and all it's custom content) for a good 20-25 hours before I got sick of it. And I'd still rather go back and play some of that over Mini Ninjas.

I won't go into the story too much. It's just your basic "rescue your friends and defeat the evil Samurai warlord" type cliche. A few humorous bits along the way, but story is not the selling point here, that's for sure.

The main selling point is the design of Mini Ninjas. For the action genre, it's unique looking. Not quite cell-shaded, but it has a very minimalist, basic design. This is a nice change, but on the other hand I've seen plenty of childrens game with this same very plain design. Sometimes it's just a little bit too basic looking. The forest themed levels look great. Some of the villages and fortresses not so much. The snowy levels at the end are just downright bland, and in the case of one level (Snowy Canyon) so bland you can hardly see where to go. But the majority of the game looks good enough. Just don't expect Crysis-quality photo-realistic outdoor detail, because that's most certainly not what this game is trying to achieve. Mini Ninjas is more like a cartoon.

I see this game has quite good ratings on Metacritic, lots of 9 and 10's. I don't think it's that good. Cute art design and characters, decent hack'n'slash gameplay, but it's not going to revolutionise your game-playing world.

This is from the same studio that created the Hitman franchise, which I personally feel is a bit overrated with the last Hitman title in 2006 just being downright crap, and Kane & Lynch which is nothing but an average shooter. So I suppose Mini Ninjas is their best game yet, just.

Tough score, I think if it ended a bit sooner (removing some of the later levels) I may have given it a 7/10.