|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Magic Pockets||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|
Lastly, though both Futo and Suzume offer some minor differences in playability, you'll rarely find cause to call upon them. Hiro is the only one who can utilize jutsus or his rice hat (which allows him to quickly raft through rivers and such), and it's just much more convenient all around to keep him in the driver's seat throughout most the adventure.
On the flipside to adventuring, you'll occasionally be called upon to enter the spirit world. These portions of Mini Ninjas are mostly made up of puzzles that take place in 2D, sumi-e (ink and wash painting) environments. The spirit world isn't just pretty to look at; these little bits of gameplay make up what are undoubtedly the most elegant and enjoyable portions of the entire game.
Each visit to the spirit world is only a minute or two long, but the puzzles come as a breath of fresh air that almost makes trudging through the adventure worth it. You'll usually be required to use your ink brush to create structures on the canvas; you'll then use a knife to reveal hidden elements within the painting - the goal being to see your ninja safely to the other side of the spirit plane. There are even some boss battles that take place in the spirit realm, and though they offer little challenge, there's much to appreciate in terms of sheer creativity.
Unlike many of the puzzles that comprise Professor Layton games, navigating the spirit world isn't an element of Mini Ninjas just tossed in randomly. In most cases, these puzzles are represented by spirits blocking your path, and only by defeating them or successfully negotiating their traps will you be able to press onward. It's a shame the spirit-world puzzles weren't the main focus of the game, as they're wonderfully delightful to work through.
The presentation in Mini Ninjas on DS, however, is yet another disappointment, especially in light of the wonderful job done on the console versions. The character models here are blocky and ugly, and the game has none of the cute appeal we were hoping for. Environments often show off an impressive expanse, though some areas look slapped together and rough around the edges. On the other hand, when you enter the spirit world, the game becomes a simple yet lovely display of beauty on the dual screen.
The music and sound effects fare a little better, with a surprising variety of themes that fit snugly alongside the game's overall motif. The same, silly samurai utterances from the console iterations are present here, but they don't have nearly the same comedic effect due to the game's lifeless visuals.
Mini Ninjas on DS is an incredible disappointment. There are clearly some great ideas present in the game, and the story set-up is built upon a solid foundation. Once you push the start button on this machine, however, it breaks down and falls in on itself. The controls are haphazard and unreliable, the combat is frustrating and antiquated, and the visuals are sometimes messy and unpolished. The game retains almost none of the cuteness of its console counterparts - a major factor of this new series. Desperate DS owners might want to consider renting it just to experience the spirit-world puzzles, but no one should seriously contemplate buying this game.
CCC Freelance Writer