Mini Ninjas is a decidedly different turn for developer IO Interactive, maker of the Hitman series. This action adventure is low on gruesome assassinations and high on lighthearted fun, but that doesn't mean fans of stealth-kill simulators, or anyone else for that matter, should skip over it. Mini Ninjas is an approachable and enjoyable game with a charming art style that brings its lively world to life. There are a few kinks that present some minor annoyances, but they don't detract too much from what is overall a delightfully plucky adventure.
Your hat can block arrows and serve as a boat or a sled.
The story is a straight-up ninja road trip. It follows the young ninja Hiro and his portly friend Futo as they embark on a mission to find their four missing ninja pals and stop an evil samurai warlord from taking over the world. On their long journey to the warlord's headquarters, the two little ninjas will find their friends, learn new spells, and battle magic samurai. There's not much narrative, but what's there is entertaining and often humorous. The cinematics that are unlocked when you find each ninja aren't included in the campaign for some reason, but they're worth seeking out in the main menu and watching. They're extremely well produced, beautifully animated, and funny to boot.
Mini Ninjas is a linear adventure split up across sprawling levels. However, the journey is more than a simple waltz from point A to point B. The broad and inviting level design encourages exploration and creates the illusion of a lush, open world. Each level has a sprinkling of hidden paths that lead to shrines, enemy encampments, or collectibles, some of which are used to mix helpful potions. You'll also find shortcuts that can lead you around a confrontation, and scenic paths that are as treacherous as they are beautiful. The level design does a great job of making the game feel like one cohesive journey, a singular quest to rescue friends and defeat the bad guys.
There are a variety of ways for you to take down said bad guys. Each character has a strong attack and a weak attack as well as a special move inspired by his weapon or personality. Hidden shrines in many of the levels will unlock new spells, like the ability to control any of the animals you find hopping around or stuck in cages. It's fun to free a caged boar from an enemy encampment and then use that same boar to chase down enemies for some sweet swine vengeance. If you'd rather keep your ninja action traditional, you can purchase or find projectile weapons like shurikens and cherry bombs. Using them isn't as fun as sending flaming meteors down on your enemies, but they're effective nonetheless.
Possess a fox for a speedy retreat, or a bear for a good old-fashioned mauling.
Despite all the options, the relatively simple combat--which doesn't usually require much more thought than mashing the attack button--gets repetitive toward the end of the game. That's because some of the spells, weapons, and even ninjas, aren't worth using. With his magic abilities and homing-attack special move, Hiro is by far the most useful character. Unless you just like the looks of other ninjas, there's no compelling reason to use some of them. The developer went to the trouble of giving each of the six ninjas a different weapon, personality, and set of animations, so it's unfortunate that there aren't more reasons to use them all.