In addition to the ninjas' various combat techniques, Mini Ninjas features a simple stealth system that lets you hide in tall grass or on rooftops. You can sneak-attack an enemy for extra damage or skip a fight entirely by staying out of sight. Sometimes it's hard to tell what enemies can and can't see, even if the stealth icon is showing that you're hidden, especially when enemy archers are on the rooftops. The enemy AI follows the same pattern in every fight: they swarm you at first sight and then spread out (or run in fear) as you thin their ranks. If you'd rather run for the woods and skip the fighting, you can do that, and the enemies won't always follow, but you'll miss out on gaining experience, which is used to increase your health, your special-move capacity, and more. It would have been nice to receive experience rewards for stealth. If you sneak or run your way through most of the game, you'll end up with an underpowered group of ninjas.
The controls are silky smooth: wall runs, stealth kills, and special moves are easy to pull off and fun to watch, because each ninja does every action differently from the other five. For example, Suzume spins her flute in the water like a motor boat, while Futo uses his giant hammer as a paddle. When you're not pressing buttons to fight, your second thumb will be at work on the right analog stick, constantly adjusting the struggling camera. It does an OK job as you run through the countryside, but it has a tendency to hang back and lag behind once you start making sudden turns, which is a real pain when you're indoors.
You can sneak your way through some locations, but just don't look down.
It might not blow you away at first glance, but Mini Ninjas' consistent and attractive art style will win you over in time. The characters and environments are charmingly simple, like vector art or the 3D version of a 2D flash animation. Everything fits together perfectly, and not a single stone looks out of place in this world, making it a joy to explore every inch of every level. The time of day is different in each level, which helps create the illusion of a long journey. One level is bathed in a yellowish dusk and another in midnight blue. The difference between the three versions of the game are negligible, though if you have a PC that can run it at the highest settings, you'll get cleaner textures and crisper, more vibrant colors with that version.
The music sets the mood perfectly with authentic-sounding Japanese instruments--a lone flute accompanies your isolated exploration of a snowy mountaintop, while a chorus of drums plays as you descend during your frantic escape. The sound design balances the serious and somber tunes with silly screeches from the enemies and popping sound effects as they poof back into their original animal forms.
Mini Ninjas is a great start to what could well become a staple franchise for Eidos and IO. If you're hunting for collectibles, you'll easily spend eight to 10 hours on your journey. Even on the hardest setting, the game is never unbearably difficult. The bosses all follow predictable patterns, and fighting enemies is often optional, so most of your frustrations will come at the hands of the poor camera. But Mini Ninjas makes it easy to see past these issues and have a great time.