Hot, cute or neither
Ninjas are hot. Small Ninjas are cute, or at least meant to be. So, is a game about tiny little Ninjas hot, cute or neither? We have a chance to find out with IO Interactive’s latest action adventure for the DS, called Mini Ninjas.
You are Hiro. You have been training to be a Ninja for years and now that your training is almost complete, the empire is in need of your skills. An evil Samurai warlord has returned to Japan and threatens to throw the land into chaos. Many Ninjas have been sent to stop the evil, but none returned. You are the last of the Ninjas, and thus Japan’s last hope to stop the Samurai.
Not so lonesome
While that may sound like a heavy burden on such a lonely little Ninja, you do have help. Throughout the game you will free caged birds that will give you hints, help you concoct new potions, transport quickly between different areas on the map and act as save points. While these birds won’t actually join you on your quests, two other characters named Futo and Suzume will. All three characters have their own strengths and weaknesses but in most cases you won’t find any need for other skills than Hiro’s own. Occasionally however, Futo and Suzume are required to trigger a particular part of the story. This is not always clear, so when you get stuck, you may want to try to switch to one of the other characters.
Tiny though he may be, Hiro is a fast little bugger. He can quickly circle around enemies and deliver heavy blows with his Ninja sword, rapidly emptying an area of whatever pests may be around. Apart from his sword, Hiro is also trained in the use of Shuriken. Throwing these at remote targets can be fun, but the controls are a little wonky which caused nasty delays while the enemy fired arrows in return and had little trouble hitting me. Running towards a bowman and slicing him to pieces is a very viable way to quickly dispose of him while sustaining minimal damage. Hiro’s Ninja Hat is another useful tool , especially around water. He can throw it upside down into rivers and lakes, jump into it and peddle around in safety.
When you do get damaged you can use plants, nuts and fruits to nurse yourself back to health. You will get better results mixing ingredients into test tubes to create much stronger health potions, along with a range of other potions that can temporarily give you an edge over your opponents. Unfortunately, not all birds in the game allow you to mix potions and you will have to wait until next time that you meet one. Similarly, not all birds will let you save and the ones that do are positioned quite far away from each other. This can be especially frustrating when you have just negotiated some difficult platform action and are then faced by yet another difficult obstacle.
Navigating around the large map is easy, even if you occasionally need to open the map overview to see where you are and where you should be to complete your current mission. Most missions have fairly simple directives. It doesn’t get any more fancy than “help so and so”, “reach point x” or “find item y”. Invariably, each mission consists of trashing lots of Samurai henchmen, in various sizes. The average opponent isn’t any taller than your own modest stature, but there are bigger foes around, and even the occasional end boss who is bound to be positively huge. Defeating these buggers is reminiscent of fighting end bosses in Nintendo’s own franchises: find the weak spot and exploit it until you bring the behemoth to its knees.
In between the action, puzzle sequences are used to liven up the game a bit. These come in the form of interactive Japanese paintings that need to be completed and reworked by your own drawing and cutting skills. They will even occasionally need you to use the microphone. Initially, these puzzles seemed somewhat dumb, but as they became more intricate, they turned out to have some refreshing little surprises in them.
The jury is in
Mini Ninjas is a surprisingly smooth game, considering the quality of its graphics. The game’s engine is versatile and will churn out some impressive pictures. The first time that you encounter an end boss, you will surely like how well he has been animated and how fluidly he moves around the map while trying to hack a chunk out of your tiny body. The same can’t be said about the camera. Mini Ninjas is hampered by the same issue that so many games suffer from: a poorly implemented auto camera. The game had me running around in confusion, knowing that there was another enemy to be defeated, but not being able to see him.
But even despite the problems with the camera controls, Mini Ninjas is still a fun game. Finding ingredients for potions, the painting mini games, the fast sword action… there is certainly a lot to like. I for one, look forward to the future adventures of Hiro and his motley crew.
Fast action and creative mini-games will keep gameplay fresh.
The poorly implemented auto camera will get on your nerves.