Mini Ninjas Review (PS3)

Yes, Mini Ninjas is indeed a game from Hitman and Kane & Lynch maker IO Interactive - the developer famed for garrotte wire and blood-soaked assassinations has gone and made a game for kids. Or is it? There’s a little more to Mini Ninjas than meets the eye, offering something beyond the remit of mere kids title. This is a stylised, visually charming game that can’t fail to entice with an instantly endearing art style that is both bold and colourful. That’s all well and good you might scoff, but is it any good?

Cast as the diminutive, katana wielding Hiro, your mission is to rescue your equally miniature comrades who have gone missing following the arrival of the Evil Samurai Warlord. Transforming cute forest animals into almost as cute samurai warriors, you must put a stop to the Samurai Warlord’s nefarious machinations, lest he tear the land asunder using the power of forbidden, dark Kuji magic.

Like any ninja worth his salt, Hiro has cat-like reflexes and perfect balance. Don’t let his diminutive size fool you.
This is a job for Futo and his giant mallet. Hiro’s attacks simply don’t work against the larger enemies like this.

And so you embark upon your quest with rotund buddy Futo in tow. Chubby Futo can be called upon at any time to deal with the larger foes that Hiro finds himself coming up against during your epic journey. On your travels, you’ll liberate other ninja friends who are then added to your menu, which you can consult whenever you feel the need for a little variety. Truth be told though, consulting the aid of your ninja helpers is largely unnecessary since Hiro and Futo are perfectly capable of cleaving through the samurai hordes with a deadly slice from a razor sharp blade or a crushing blow from a giant mallet respectively.

The rest of Hiro’s little posse is arguably quite superfluous, but then the optional variety is a more than welcome addition nonetheless. Suzume can cause enemies to become dazed as they dance a jaunty jig to her hypnotising flute melodies, Shun is a deadly archer and Tora is a fast, tiger-striped nutter with claws. While they may not be essential and it’s entirely feasible to play through the whole game as Hiro, switching between characters proves irresistible, simply because they’re all so effortlessly appealing. Besides, new characters are drip-fed as you progress through the game, so there’s always an extra ability to add to your repertoire once you free each imprisoned ninja.

Mini Ninjas is as enchanting as you could possibly imagine. The care that IO has put into the game shines through in the striking, cutesy, cel-shaded art style complemented by wonderful animation that lends the entire cast real character. It pounces upon you from out of the shadows with a stealth attack of pure charisma, providing a long enough distraction to ensure you overlook the fact that the game is actually a mite too repetitive.

Your attacks consist purely of rapidly tapping two buttons with a special ability executed by holding down and releasing one of the face buttons. Boss encounters invariably involve a God of War style QTE repeated several times, which is disappointingly facile. Finding shrines unlocks new spells for Hiro to unleash upon hapless foes, but you’ll find yourself neglecting the majority of these as most serve a fleeting purpose before being removed from your quick select menu and forgotten. And they’re useless against boss characters.

Furthermore, the fiddly radial menus used to select items and characters can be a real pain at times, especially when multiple enemies are chasing after you and all you want to do is drop some caltrops or swiftly knock back a health potion. The main inventory screen could also prove just as awkward for a younger player, although being able to mix ingredients to formulate potions is a nice addition.

A levelling up system that awards experience orbs each time you dispatch a bumbling samurai also adds a light layer of RPG-style progression that belies its status as a title aimed at the younger player. Mini Ninjas holds enough hidden depth to entice the more mature gamer, with levels designed to challenge you to explore if you so wish, or alternatively you can stick to the allotted path and run from A to B with little fuss. Some elements of the game may prove slightly too difficult for the less experienced player however, but not quite challenging enough to offer a solid enough challenge for gamers at the more hardcore end of the spectrum.

These Tengu bird fellas offer extra sub-missions for Hiro to complete. Older, wise Tengus hang around temples selling useful potion recipes for you to purchase with your scavenged currency.
This is the game’s second boss who let’s rip with pungent green farts that follow you around. Lovely!

But then a game where you fight super-deformed, helium-voiced warriors hardly seems like the kind of thing that would tempt your average veteran gamer anyway. There’s no blood and viscera in sight as enemies disappear in clouds of black smoke when killed, reverting back to their original, adorable forest animal state. You can even possess the wee creatures to sniff out hidden goodies or in the case of the bear and boar, dole out a sound pasting to any nearby bad guys. It’s all very child-friendly stuff overall.

Fundamentally, Mini Ninjas is a sweet-natured, breezily fun hack and slash title embellished with a few gentle RPG elements that inject a little extra depth to proceedings. It’s perfectly pleasant and enjoyable brand of cartoon violence will probably see a good few hours of your time fly by as you swipe your way through adorable, glowing-eyed samurai enemies. Just like anything mini - mini eggs, mini cheddars, mini Babybel - Mini Ninjas is exceedingly moreish. Like a sweet, chocolate-covered confection, IO’s expectation confounding time away from brutal murder is something you’ll happily consume, even though you know that it might be bad for you. Sadly, we’re not entirely sure who Mini Ninja’s core audience might be as it may prove too harsh for the little ones and too easy for the more seasoned. Forget all that though – give it a go and prepare to be enchanted by it’s lovable ninja charm.

Top game moment: Liberating ninja buddy Tora - who thinks he’s a tiger - from his bamboo cage. He’s stealthy, fast and the best character in the game. Bar little Hiro, of course.

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.