One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a gamer, especially one who also works as a game editor, is to forget why he’s playing in the first place. As times go by and we check more and more titles on our “Completed” list, we slowly start to mock the so-called “kiddie games” or those that don’t seem to rise to our high standard of pretentiousness, as it were.
We get so caught up in this mad race to have the most epic gear on the server, the most frags in a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare multiplayer match or to cross the line first in Need for Speed that we forget the simple fact that a “kiddie game” like Dragonica has the potential to be more fun and relaxing, in the true sense of the word.
That said, when I first received a press release for Mini Ninjas via e-mail, my first reaction was “Yeah, whatever”, but when I saw that IO Interactive was attached to this project, I got curious. The Danish studios already had under their belt four Hitman games, the much-appreciated Freedom Fighters and the not-so popular Kane & Lynch. And since everyone else was holding their breath for the next hitman, producing such a title seemed a bit bizarre. I even told Assassin one day “I think these guys have had enough seriousness and decided to take a break”.
The beauty of simplicity
Just like Dragonica, Mini Ninjas is excellent for relaxing after a hard day at work or playing with your kids. That is why, for instance, the story isn’t a monument of complexity: once upon a time, in a land which looks like feudal Japan, the samurai were lead by an Evil Warlord. Which has evidently defeated, as per the scenario requirements. Centuries of peace followed and people went on with their daily lives, but recently, strange events have begun to occurs. Animals disappearing, storms, floods, and an unusual activity in the presumably abandoned fortress of the Warlord.
To find out what’s happening, the Great Ninja Master sent four of his six ninja students, but none have returned. And now, the last two mini ninjas, Hiro and Futo, must save their friends and stop the devious plans that have been put into motion.
At first you’ll control just the two, but as you progress through the story you will eventually have a crack squad of warriors under your command, with each ninja having a certain style: Hiro is the classic ninja, wielding the emblematic sword and the only one who can tap into the powers of Kuji magic. Futo is the “roundest” of the bunch, being a bit easier to jump than go around and using a hammer excellently suited for beating down evil samurai. Shun on the other hand likes to hit them from afar using his trusty bow, while Kunoichi uses her spear to keep them at a distance.
When you’ll meet Tora, the first reaction will probably be “Awww, a baby Wolverine”, but don’t be fooled by appearances. He’s just as deadly as his X-Men cousin. Suzume however is more delicate, using the flute her mother gave to her as a lethal weapon and a source for an enchanting song.
Way of the warrior
Even though saving the world is your main goal, most of the areas you go through won’t constantly remind you of this and sometimes you’ll end up admiring the scenery rather than heading to the end of the level. That’s because the graphics doesn’t bet on the “high tech effects” horse to woo you, but on design. Bamboo forests, gardens filled with cherry trees, tall grass with plenty of flowers, peaceful rivers flowing in the background, everything comes together to create an almost surreal atmosphere. The musical score also has its say, and those fascinated by Japanese culture will surely be delighted to listen to all the songs. Slow and dreamy when exploring, pounding with drums when all hell breaks loose, but never annoying.
Although we’re not dealing with an open-world title, the levels in Mini Ninjas are surprisingly vast. Besides the various ingredients which you can collect for mixing potions, sometimes there are special shrines to be found that offer you a new spell, if you activate them with an Anemone that you can gather from the surroundings. Some shrines are easier to find than others, but you’ll receive a spell at the start of your adventure that will guide you to the nearest one, if it exists in the level. Moreover, before starting a new level, a progress report will be displayed to see how methodical you were in finding shrines, gathering gold and ingredients or freeing animals. If you’re pleased with how you’ve fared, you can move forward, if not, you can return and start exploring again.
There are also various “side missions” that are offered by benevolent spirits (Tengu), usually involving the gathering of one ingredient or another for a potion or bomb, because said spirit is too lazy to get it on his own. Ingredients come under the guise of plants, ginseng roots or mushrooms, but to mix these potions you’ll need recipes. Recipes that you’ll purchase with the gold you collect from barrels or samurai camps.
The potion effects can vary from the classic heal and energy renewal to shields against projectiles or transforming into a fish. For health regeneration you won’t have to rely solely on potions though, thanks to the tree which you can shake for some delicious apples or beehives. Mind you, if there’s a beehive in a tree that you’re shaking, you’ll be chased by an angry swarm. If you don’t fancy this outcome, you can always find a nice, quite spot on a lake to go fishing and prepare some delicious sushi.