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Mini Ninja Impressions

Koku Gamer and ninjas go hand in hand like a knife through butter or a ninjaken through a watermelon…except that we co-exist peacefully. Therefore it was with great pleasure that we playtested the Xbox 360 version of Mini Ninjas, IO Interactive’s new title.

Personally, I have followed the progress of Mini Ninjas since the absolutely…eh…adorable reveal trailer. It pains me to use such words, but…it was so cute! Moving swiftly on before I begin to lose the veneer of manliness, Mini Ninjas is a game for the whole family to enjoy together and was apparently developed by Hitman specialists IOI because they wanted to play something with their kids.

It’s an action game based around three (predictably) mini ninjas: Hiro, Futo and Suzume. Each of these three has a unique weapon and attack. Hiro has his sword, Futo has a hammer and Suzume uses a flute to put enemies in a trance. The ninjas have basic attacks triggered by the X and Y buttons while the bumpers provide you with radial menus for both character and spell/item selection; both can be changed at any time. The spells and items consist of generic things like Fireball and Shurikens, yet there was a gem in the form of the rather interesting Spirit spell.

Enemies aren’t ‘killed’, but are turned into animals like chickens, frogs, foxes or bears. When using the Spirit spell, time is slowed down and your ninja is able to enter the bodies of these animals and use them to sneak past unsuspecting enemies. Kids will get a hoot out of hitting the face buttons which makes the animals perform actions or cluck, squeak and so on so forth. This spell doesn’t last forever though, so it involves some tactical planning.

I encountered a large enemy at one point and a quick change to Futo, the ‘tank’ of the ninjas, allowed me to take it down without too much trouble. The enemy then turned into a bear which I used in Spirit form to attack enemies. And if there is any gap between you and enemies, this can be rectified by holding down the B button to sprint.

So while Mini Ninjas may sound like a nice little game to enjoy with the kids, it’s definitely not without its problems.

The first of which is the lack of co-op. For a game that’s based around families playing together, the omission is absolutely perplexing. Loading times also seemed a wee bit on the long side. While this may have been older code, release is in the second week of September; not far away at all. And considering the retail game boxes were beside the pods, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that this was a pretty complete version on show.

Happy Panda

We were also disappointed by the dull environmental colour palette of the level played. A glance across at the kid playing alongside me revealed an absolutely beautiful and colourful level full of vegetation, so I figured it was just the theme of the level. Yet this blandness in the colour scheme actually contributed to me dying within a few seconds of playing.

Thankfully, the game kicks you straight back into the action (which may somewhat explain the long initial load time) and I investigated only to find there were fissures in the ground that, well, didn’t really look like fissures. In fact, they looked very last-gen and weren’t very visible hazards. A quick change to Suzume allowed me to jump over the fissures with ease and I came to a small cliff that could be negotiated by scaling the walls. A nice addition, but it again looked rather last-gen and reminded me of the way in which Scree from the PS2’s Primal negotiated walls.

These little niggles are somewhat pedantic on my part as it is, of course, a game for kids; and a cute game at that too. In fact, most of the demo pods were taken up by small kids who seemed to be really enjoying the game. Thinking back to my days of enduring sub-par games as a youngster, I think Mini Ninjas will do its job of being a game for the young ones very well. But for those in their teens and beyond, it may prove to be a somewhat underwhelming experience.