Mini Ninjas
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-09-20 PS3 Action/Adventure E10 (Everyone 10+) Io Interactive / Eidos Interactive

Mini Ninjas is an action/adventure title from Io and Eidos Interactive that places players in the role of Hiro, the smallest of the already small ninja set, who also happens to be the least likely candidate for the task at hand.

Three hundred years prior to our story, an evil samurai warlord who had ravaged the land, laying claim to all he saw fit, was finally defeated and banished from the empire. Peace returned to the land, and the warlord's castles went into decay. Because of some as-of-yet unknown cause however, shortly before our story begins the samurai warlord was given new life, and began creating an army in secret by using Kuji magic to transform forest animals into warriors.

It's only after the warlord's castles resume activity that the surrounding villages realize the gravity of their situation, with four ninjas being sent to investigate the cause. After losing contact with each of the four ninjas, Hiro is the only candidate left who can seek out this familiar evil and destroy it. Along the way, Hiro must rescue his friends and learn to harness his own Kuji magic abilities, if peace is ever to return to the land.

Gameplay in Mini Ninjas is fairly straightforward, and is split into linear levels that see you exploring the land's forests, castles and temples, retrieving lost Kuji spells (giving you control over animals, the ability to use fairy-like creatures to seek out hidden areas, and temporary control over fire, wind and other elements, among others), freeing animals from cages before they can be turned into warriors, collecting various plants or stones that can be combined to form healing or attack items, and returning the warlord's troops to their animal form through combat.

After you have located them, each ninja becomes a playable character, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Hiro, for one, is an unassuming form who relies more on agility than brute force, and is the only ninja able to use Kuji magic, while Futo, as another example, is the exact opposite - the largest of the ninjas, Futo wields a massive mallet capable of eliminating equally massive enemies (like those transformed from bears).

While each level isn't at a lack for content, the game's pace leaves something to be desired. It's as if Io couldn't decide whether they wanted to create a simple hack-and-slash or go full tilt exploration, so they instead went with a mix of the two; however, there is little balance between these two gameplay extremes. One moment, you're knee deep in forest underbrush collecting flowers and roots with nary a soul in sight, and the next you're surrounded by a dozen enemies, and are bashing on attack buttons or switching between ninjas to utilize those who are better equipped to handle the situation.

Certain levels, like the castle based level players encounter fairly early on, do contain a bit more flow, as they are room based, and allow you to first defeat any enemies therein, and then clear the room of collectible objects before moving onto the next. However, more often than not, you'll find yourself alone in the wilderness for long stretches of time, which, needless to say, isn't very exciting.

The game's flawed pacing aside, the other core mechanics of Mini Ninjas are quite solid. The animal cages and recipe ingredients are well hidden, providing a challenge for even the most seasoned of players. In fact, you'll probably find yourself frequently utilizing Hiro's "Spirit Form" spell (which allows you to possess animals) in order to find them, as each animal's heightened sense of smell causes all collectible items to be surrounded by blue smoke. This is especially helpful for finding items like stone caps or mushrooms, which blend in with the muted colors of the surrounding environment.

Likewise, combat is nicely executed, with Hiro's combat spells (if you have the stored magic power required to use them) allowing you to trample groups of nearby enemies with ease, and the game contains a thorough tutorial/hint system that will help you key in on the best strategies throughout.

As is the basic gameplay, technically, Mini Ninjas is a bit two-sided. While the graphics here are quite pleasing, mostly comprised of a soft color palette and a more cartoon-like appearance, the framerate slows in spots, specifically in levels containing any sort of atmospheric phenomena like rain.

Likewise, the soundtrack is, at its core, fitting of the Asian landscape and of the cartoon-quality of the overall game (enemy warriors speak in an adorable gibberish, and squeak and grunt playfully when left to go about their business) but is not without flaws of its own. Most notably, the sound of crackling fires or falling rain will often cut in and out (again, this is often accompanied by the aforementioned slowing framerate).

All in all, Mini Ninjas has fine fundamentals, but does little to set itself apart from others in the genre. It's a decent offering for the short time that it lasts (under ten hours), but contains little replay value. And while the game is accessible to younger players due to its simplistic control scheme, depending on the age of the player the slow exploration aspect may or may not be well received. It'd be safe to consider this a rental before making an actual purchase.

Special thanks to Dana Whitney and Eidos for providing a copy of this title.