|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: IO Interactive||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Eidos Int.||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 8, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Adam Brown
After nearly a decade of video game development, IO Interactive has made a name for themselves with a handful of successful titles. Perhaps best known for their Hitman series, in which you take control of Agent 47 and complete numerous assassination missions, IO Interactive has seemingly had a tendency to cater more towards mature gamers. In fact, except for Freedom Fighters, which was released in 2003 and rated T, every game they've released has been deemed too graphic for audiences under the age of seventeen. This makes their recent release, Mini Ninjas, more than a bit of an oddity.
With a rating of E10+ Mini Ninjas is a drastic departure from what you'd expect from the company. Instead of playing as the likes of a highly trained killer or murderous mercenary, Mini Ninjas actually puts you in control of a ragtag group of children ninjas on a quest to restore peace to their once serene homeland. As a group they were trained by the Ninja Master, each specializing in their own styles and weapons until a great evil began to threaten the land. One by one they were sent out to investigate this disturbance, never to be heard from again, until only two of the students remained.
At the start of the game you are able to control either Hiro (the main character) or his friend Futo (a hulking ninja who wields a large hammer). Hiro is much quicker and more agile than Futo, but Futo is a stronger character who is better suited to fighting larger, tougher enemies. As you play through the game, you'll eventually find and save all of the other previously sent out ninjas, which will add them to your stable of playable characters. Players can quickly switch between any of the ninjas using a ninja selection wheel, allowing the use of the most appropriate ninja for each type of enemy and/or situation.
Still, no matter which character you use the game's combat feels fairly similar. Hitting an enemy with a sword is not unlike hitting them with a hammer, a flute, claws, a spear, etc. Only Futo with his massive hammer and Shun with his bow and arrows feel truly distinctive, and in Futo's case that isn't exactly a compliment, given that he feels quite a bit clumsier than the others. With only two attack buttons that can be pressed multiple times or in alternating fashions to create combos, your range of attacks can also feel somewhat limited. However, as the game progresses you'll also discover multiple items and Kuji spells that help to spice things up a bit.
During the course of your adventure, you'll come across the ninja staples you'd expect such as throwing stars that stun enemies and smoke bombs to help you to escape/hide. While these items are fairly easy to find and attain, you'll actually have to do some hunting to uncover new spells to add to your repertoire. To gain a new spell, you'll need to find shrines that are hidden throughout the game's levels and present the proper offering to activate them. Every shrine requires a white flower, usually hidden somewhere nearby, in order to decipher its wisdom. None of these spells are absolutely necessary to proceed through the game, but they are often incredibly useful against larger groups of enemies and also help to focus the player on what I thought was the best part of Mini Ninjas: the exploration of its levels.
Almost every level in the game is filled to the brim with things to discover. Aside from the spell shrines, you can also discover hidden money to buy recipes, caged animals to set free, statues, and various plants and fungi. While the statues don't really help the player in any real way, everything else provides some sort of gameplay benefit. After recipes have been purchased, your collected vegetation can be used to make all manner of potions to heal yourself or refill your spell casting energy.