Despite its uniqueness, some design choices left me unsatisfied.
Genre: Hack and Slash
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: 15 Sep, 2009
Mini Ninjas is a game where you can possess animals and defeat enemies. Despite the description on Steam’s store page, there’s barely any stealth in the game.
Despite its old age, the visuals still look good with its simple, 3D graphics. Characters look cute in their mini size and environments look detailed while still retaining their simplicity. However, some areas are too bright for my eyes, especially when you possess an animal in winter-themed areas.
There isn’t much to tell about the story – everything is focused on the premise that was told at the beginning of the game. Dialogues are made simple and to the point to let you be informed of the bad guys and what you have to do.
The game is focused on exploration with ninja techniques. As a ninja, you can walk on a wall vertically for a short while, do a wall jump, and jump through the roofs to either sneak between the enemies or proceed your way through. It makes the game unique since you need to think differently on how to pass through the areas: instead of looking for a wide, open path that you can pass through, you’ll start thinking about whether you could climb some buildings and proceed from there.
Despite the uniqueness, exploration doesn’t seem to go well in this game. Each level provides a vast map, whether it’s to find collectibles that do nothing apart from a sense of completion, find hidden areas that can give you new spells, or find an item seller to buy some potions. Although it seems like a good idea at the start, areas tend to be very vast, encouraging you to walk for minutes before finding anything of importance.
Although you can possess animals, its functionality is limited. Most animals can’t attack the enemies, forcing you to dispossess them whenever you have to fight. The more useful animals, namely bears and pandas, can attack the enemies, but you can’t activate checkpoints or shake trees to recover HP while possessing them. This forces you to dispossess them, and when you do, these animals will run off until they are nowhere to be found. This becomes annoying later on since they are hard to find despite their usefulness.
Possessing animals also can help you find collectibles. They tend to be well hidden within the vast area, so you’re bound to possess animals all the time if you care about them. However, most animals tend to walk very slowly, making the exploration take longer than it should. The fact that bears and pandas, who have roughly the same speed as you, tend to run off on their own after you dispossess them also doesn’t help in this regard.
Although the tutorial encourages you to use stealth to kill enemies, you rarely have the chance to use it. You’ll bound to fight against a lot of enemies at once and enemies are attentive enough to notice you sneaking from behind. The game seems to expect this to happen though. Six characters with different weapons are available to use on different occasions, helping you to fight the hordes of enemies. Some enemies will be more annoying to fight, but they shouldn’t pose much trouble as long as you are careful.
It’s hard to figure out how to beat the bosses. Luckily, the game will help you with some hints after some time has passed. It’s up to you whether to read the hint or not, but once you know how to defeat them, boss fights tend to be repetitive. Bosses usually die in 3 chains of QTE attacks, which are triggered after you do a certain action. They don’t have a lot of variety either, forcing you to do the same thing three times to beat.
Length and Difficulty
I finished the game in 12.2h while collecting as many collectibles as I could. It offers three difficulties and the normal difficulty is not hard once you know what to do – you might die several times, whether it’s because you weren’t expecting the enemy variety or figuring out the new enemy’s attack pattern, but checkpoints are generous enough to help you to get back on your feet.
The game has no in-game sounds apart from some cutscenes. The Steam forum has a fix for it, but since it involves installing unknown software, I didn’t bother to do it. There were also times when I needed to revisit some tutorials, but the game doesn’t offer a way to do it. Lastly, the game tends to mess up your view, changing the view from a third-person to a first-person in cramped spaces.
Intel Core i5-9300H 2.40GHz, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
To be honest, I expected this game to be focused on stealth. Although I don’t mind playing the game without it, some design choices left me unsatisfied. It was boring to walk through an empty landscape for minutes just to find anything worthwhile, especially when you have to repeat the cycle for all levels. The animal possession sounds like a good idea at the start, but its unbearable walking speed ends up as another source of frustration to me. I don’t think I can recommend this game with the gameplay being as boring as it is.