Review by allyourbaseareb

"Great game for the Ninja minded"

Mini Ninjas is set in a fictional parody of classical Japan, complete with iconic soaring mountains, Shinto-style architecture, vast castles from the feudal era, and most importantly ninja moves from every comic book in the history of manga. You begin as Hiro, a young ninja disciple gifted in the use of ninja magic, tasked with finding your missing friends while you solve the mystery of strange, inhuman samurai marauding through the countryside.

The game is rendered in a chibi style (everyone's short and cute), and the fighting and violence in-game is relatively simple and also, essentially, cute. When you leap out of cover and run unsuspecting samurai through with your ninja-to, they vanish in a puff of smoke, and the insanely cute forest creature they'd been possessing goes free, bounding off into the cartoon forest. This makes the game suitable for any age of gamer, and furnishes a welcome respite from the tidal wave of intensely graphic & violent titles on the market.

The combat system is fairly straightforward, with three attack buttons (a standard attack combo, a stun move, and a rechargeable ultra-attack unique to each ninja!), and a defense button; Hiro also has a magic attack button which lets him use some of the game's most powerful offensive techniques, as well as oblique methods, like vanishing or slowing down time. At first the combat can seem a little one-dimensional for hardcore gamers who've subdued numerous complicated fighting titles- but with practice, you can achieve a high level of skill with the system, and take out a swarm of foes in the blink of an eye without taking a scratch from their countless swords, spears and arrows. Now, that's ninja.

Moreover, there's a myriad of items to deploy, in keeping with the ninja canon. You can drop a smoke bomb in the middle of combat and vanish, reappearing with a stealth attack to renew the assault. You can drop caltrops in your wake as you flee the enemy, or send out a fusillade of throwing stars. You can brew potions which can augment your abilities or disorient your enemies. I found that sneak-attacking a camp of samurai, then fleeing & dropping a bomb in the path of my pursuers, to watch them all go up in a puff of smoke was one of the most satisfying ninja-moves of my life, to date!

What truly adds flavor to the game is the acquisition of your lost ninja friends as you progress through the levels. Each has a unique method in combat, so it takes some study to use each ninja effectively. Everyone is sure to have their favorite ninja by the end, but for the dedicated gamer, finding out how to use each of them flawlessly will provide a lot of challenge.

The levels are beautifully illustrated and extremely vast. The areas are straight out of ancient scroll-paintings, with scenic hills, idyllic villages, majestic waterfalls, and deep mountain forests. I found crossing a silent, snow-swept bridge over a high mountain canyon as visually arresting as a scene from an Akira Kurosawa film. One level features a vast, starlit lake, filled with countless paper lamps drifting down its currents, recalling chapters from the marvelous Lone Wolf & Cub manga. Likewise the various enemies you encounter as you progress hearken to ninja stories from throughout the shinobi lore both old & new, giving you the chance to duel foes who'd only lived in legend, until now.

Despite their size, the levels aren't overwhelming to navigate. Hidden areas (usually) aren't too difficult to find, being marked by luminescent fireflies, but choosing your course through the levels can afford distinct opportunities to sneak attack unsuspecting platoons of samurai from a lofty cliff, launch full frontal assaults, circumvent the enemy entirely, or gallivant through samurai camps in the form of a fox or a boar, fomenting confusion and chaos as you go.

One of my favorite things about the game is the soundtrack. As you creep through the grass with your blade drawn and your magic scrolls at the ready, classical Japanese shakuhachi flute gently lilts in the background, allowing you to hear the rustling of the wind in the grass and the oblivious banter of your samurai foes around the next bend in the path. When you open combat with the enemy, taiko drumming adds to the stylish execution of your attacks, wrapping up smartly when your enemies have all turned back into rabbits in a climactic cloud of samurai smoke. Throughout the game, the music and sound effects underscore the attention to detail which makes this title so excellent.

One of the drawbacks of the design is its linearity- some of you, like me, will wish there were side-quests, subgames and an extra cast of incidental characters to expand on the great design philosophy in Mini Ninjas. There's little in the way of variation in the mission focus, aside from infiltrating new maps, annihilating samurai and restoring frogs & raccoons to their freedom, and collecting loot along the way. Another drawback is that for hardcore gamers who want to hit the perfect scores on every level, that can mean backtracking all the way through some gargantuan maps, hunting for one mushroom which you overlooked as you were conjuring lightning storms in the midst of a samurai camp.

Ultimately, Mini Ninjas only falls short for those of us who love the game and would like to see more of it, and who're dedicated to getting a perfect score throughout. Mini Ninjas is a well-built game, fun to play, suffused with humor, action, and tons style. Those of us who've always been ninjas at heart will revel at the opportunity to cling to the edge of a roof with our feet, sniping the enemy with our bamboo shortbows as we do. I, for one, am hoping the makers will see fit to continue the saga of Hiro and his friends in sequels to this brilliant title. Mini Ninjas gets two enthusiastic ninja stars up!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/28/09

Game Release: Mini Ninjas (US, 09/08/09)

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