IGN Review of Mini Ninjas
If you're new to IGN, I'll let you in on a little secret: I love Japan. Actually, this isn't so much a "secret" as it is "blatant fanboyism," but who's keeping track?
My love for all things Japanese extends into videogames, music, food and films. I usually jump at the chance to work on Japanese games -- as is evident by my fabled devotion to the Final Fantasy series -- and anime-style games still draw my attention more often than not. But I'll be honest when I say I was hesitant about Mini Ninjas. Not only is the game taking classic Japanese themes and making them palatable for children, but the entire project was handled by Io Interactive -- the folks behind the Hitman franchise.
But having now played Mini Ninjas extensively, I can tell you that this is one of the most heart-warming tributes to "ninja culture" that I've ever seen by a non-Japanese studio. Everything from the surprisingly stunning visuals to the soothing music makes this a real treat to play. Although the gameplay is fairly straight-forward and somewhat simple for my tastes, the overall experience is one that should definitely be had by gamers that like Japanese culture and ninja flicks -- and this is a game you can share with kids
The story of Mini Ninjas is a simple one, as are many classic ninja/samurai movies. An old Ninja Master senses a great disturbance in the balance of nature and begins sending his most trusted students down Ninja Mountain and out into the world to investigate. But with each passing season, the ninja students do not return. After a long and troubled period of waiting, the Ninja Master sends his final two students, Hiro and Futo, to rescue their friends and investigate the source of the environmental disturbances.
As it turns out, the Evil Samurai Warlord has returned from his ancient defeat and is using dark Kuji magic to turn innocent animals into mindless samurai minions. It's up to Hiro and his friends to stop the Evil Samurai Warlord before the world is torn asunder by his improper use of Kuji magic.
Mini Ninjas is a third-person action/adventure game that takes all the classic ninja aesthetics we know and removes the extreme violence. While this might turn prospective players away immediately, I encourage you to stay with me. Despite being completely safe for a child to play, Mini Ninjas is still very much a great ninja journey and an admirable tribute to the Japanese themes that Io Interactive clearly loves. Instead of cutting away at evil samurai and seeing blood and limbs fly about, Hiro and co. slash through enemies which simply vanish in a cloud of magical smoke, as the minions revert to their previous forms (which are mostly cute, cuddly animals).
As you progress through the various levels towards the Evil Samurai Warlord, Hiro will rescue his ninja companions that were sent (and captured) before him. With each friend rescued, another character is available for use and can be switched to at any time. Each character has a Primary Attack, Block Breaker Attack (which stuns enemies) and a Power Attack. The Power Attacks are techniques special to that particular character and drain a single sphere of Unstable Ki energy with each use. Each adorable ninja can also sprint, move stealthily through bushes and along rooftops, as well as make use of collected/purchased items.
Combat in Mini Ninjas could arguably be the "weakest point" of the Mini Ninjas experience, even though it's still a solid system. It's a bit simple at the beginning of the game, as pounding away at your Primary Attack will defeat most enemies without a problem. Later in the game, however, different enemy types -- which can be efficiently tackled with certain characters -- are introduced, and then huge groups of enemies attack all at once, making battles much more interesting.
Hiro is the most powerful of the six characters because of his ability to use Kuji magic. As you progress through the game, you can uncover Kuji shrines, which teach Hiro a variety of spells. Hiro is the only ninja capable of harnessing Kuji magic, and those spells can be extremely effective when fighting against the Evil Samurai Warlord's minions
Even if you're not searching for Kuji shrines, there's plenty to look for in the game's surprisingly open levels. Fruit, herbs and mushrooms can be collected to mix potions, and collectible Jizo statues can be found tucked away in the unlikeliest of corners. There's a lot to do in Mini Ninjas, even if the battles are a little straight-forward for hardcore action gamers.
But the most stunning features in Mini Ninjas, without a doubt, are the visuals and music. Even with its childish appearance, Mini Ninjas is a beautiful game that captures classic Japanese environments with its own unique charm. Ninja essentials like bamboo forests, snow-topped mountains and dusk-lit rice fields are all here to enjoy. Complementing those visuals is a breath-taking soundtrack, filled with whimsical flutes and heart-pounding drums. Crank the volume on this one, or wear a good pair of headphones.
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