Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Hands-on: Mini Ninjas (Xbox 360)

Kevin Kelly

click to enlarge
Once the most feared warriors in all Japan, Ninjas have been made incredibly cute and cuddly just by shrinking them down. Yes folks, it's Mini Ninjas. Tiny little ninjas that can weave magic spells, possess animals and defeat evil. While utterly unlikely to instill fear into the hearts of rival feudal lords, they sure do make an adorable subject for a game.

We've finally gotten to play the game, which has been veiled in shadowy secrecy since its January announcement. You'll find our impressions, new details, videos and an extremely versatile hat beyond the break.

Gallery: Mini Ninjas (05-29-2009) | 10 Photos

The local ninja master is down to his last two disciples, who aren't exactly the Dream Team.

It was tough not to chuckle when level designer Ulrik Hauen-Limkilde told us that Io Interactive wanted to make a game with an "authentic, feudal Japanese experience," and then went on to demo a game with no killing and bosses who attempt to defeat players by wafting enormous fart clouds towards them.

In Mini Ninjas, an evil samurai warlord is trying to take over the world by capturing all of the animals around his empire and turning them into mindless soldiers. Depending on what animal he uses, he gets a different result: pandas turn into big bear-like foes, pigs turn into foot soldier samurai and so on. In wreaking all of this magical havoc, he's upset the natural balance of the world -- which is where you come in. The local ninja master has sent all of his best warriors to find out what's been happening and none of them have come back. He's down to his last two, who aren't exactly the Dream Team.

Players control Hiro, a sword wielding ninja student who can wield the same Kuji magic the warlord is using, and Futo, Hiro's best friend. Futo's a big brute who never learned to use a sword, so he carries a giant hammer around instead. There are other characters (five total to choose from) that will assist players in battle, but the game starts off with just these two. Futo's a nice tank, but Hiro's ability to possess any animal he comes across isn't only fun, it has a purpose: while in animal form he can sniff out ingredients for spells. If the enemy spots Hiro as an animal, they'll give chase in the hope they can catch and turn him into one of their own kind.

Hiro's ability to possess any animal he comes across isn't only fun, it also serves a purpose: sniffing out spell ingredients.

Hiro is constantly heading towards one of five castles in the game, fighting the animals-turned-army henchmen in the wilderness and encountering a mini-boss at the end of each level. During the journey, he'll meet new friends like Sasume -- who uses a flute for a power attack -- learn new spells and avoid flatulence.

Okay, a note on that. Hiro encounters an aptly named "Fartboss" in one level. This rotund giant chases players around and sends out enormous, dark fart clouds that he'll waft towards Hiro with a fan. They'll follow him around like heat-seeking missiles, and if hit by one, will be stunned by a fit of coughing and stinging eyes. Soon enough, players discover they'll need to turn those farts back on the Fartboss by leading the clouds back towards him, sliding quickly between his legs so he gets hit with his own stink. It's actually hilarious, and will surely be an instant hit among elementary school-aged kids and older video game bloggers.

We were only given an extremely short amount of time with the game on the 360, but it's extremely cartoony and a lot of fun. The best way to describe it? Mini Ninjas is a LEGO game ... without any LEGOs. We found ourselves avoiding the enemies altogether by sneaking around them, and often times ran off in search of an animal to possess. There's just something weirdly fascinating about taking over the body of a small fox and running around. It's also fun to use Hiro's hat -- which can be whipped out at any point for use as a shield, a boat or a sled. You know, for some extreme hatboarding.

Although the game might look like an escapee from the Cartoon Network, there are a surprising amount of tactics involved.

Although the game might look like an escapee from the Cartoon Network, there are a surprising amount of tactics involved. Hiro might not always be the best character to wield in battle, and players will have to go on the hunt for ingredients for your spells from time to time. There are also alternate, hidden routes into the castles, so some may not even choose to rush directly into battle. Hiro can stealth through the grass and bypass a group of enemies or Futo can barrel through them. It opens up a lot of different options.

The only frustrating element was that for such a cute and simple-looking game, there are a lot of trips into the inventory for things like spell ingredients. There's also the tedium of dealing with radial pop-up menus to select a different character or swap out abilities. Granted, we didn't have enough time to fully learn the advanced controls, but basic combat was easy to grasp: press a button to attack, another to jump and use the sticks to move the character around. We just want to get better at tossing shurikens and bringing up a fireball spell.

Mini Ninjas is out this September for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC and DS. We're not sure why the PSP and PS2 are being left high and dry, but them's the breaks. Eidos and WB Interactive will be showing off more of this title at E3 and we'll get some more info for you.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr