|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Magic Pockets||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Eidos Int.||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 8, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
From the makers of Kain & Lynch (Io Interactive) comes one of the most adorable and interesting new franchises for gaming platforms. Mini Ninjas brings exciting, martial arts action to consoles, with cute sensibilities that will likely make the game a hit with general audiences. But how does the handheld version fare?
Mini Ninjas on DS follows the same basic premise as its console brethren, though the gameplay is presented in a more mission-based format. You'll play as Hiro, with an option to switch out with two other main characters, Futo and Suzume. A once-defeated, evil samurai has returned to mystical Japan and is taking possession of the local wildlife in order to construct an army of wretched minions.
The progression of the game is well-crafted, weaving minor quests into more integral portions of the story. Your ninja team will aid villagers by retrieving stolen sushi and rice, or rid the countryside of ghosts who are unable to pass on to the spirit realm. Your main quest, however, will lead you to shogun castles where you'll face off against the samurai horde. The game world is surprisingly large, with lots to see and tons of items to collect. In spite of the ability to teleport from one map area to another, however, the story progression is completely linear.
In concept, Mini Ninjas DS has a lot going for it, but in execution, it is a painful game to play through. From the wonky controls, to an almost-broken camera system, the game begs to be sent back to the drawing board to be completely reworked. As good as the game's story and level ideas are, you'll rarely find yourself enjoying what Magic Pockets (the handheld development team) have laid out for you here.
Mini Ninjas DS is divided into two games, really - the action-adventure portions (the bulk of the game) and the spirit world. Most of your time in the game will be spent collecting various plants and other items littered throughout Japan, fighting small groups of samurai, with a bit of scavenging and platforming tossed in for good measure. Again, the formula is sound; the mechanics, however - not so much.
In adventure mode, you'll move throughout 3D environments, controlling your character with the D-pad and face buttons. You've got a basic attack, you can jump and even wall run, execute jutsus, and make use of offensive items, such as throwing stars and smoke bombs. The camera is controlled with the left shoulder button and the D-pad, and R lets you block incoming attacks. It's a good set-up, but few things work quite as well as they should.
The controls fail on even the most basic level. Hiro will often get locked into moving along a particular path, though you may be pushing the D-pad in the opposite direction. In these instances, the only way to get him to change directions is to completely let up off the D-pad and redirect him. This is especially troublesome when in combat or trying to negotiate certain platforms.
Combat is incredibly frustrating as well, and in most cases the best course of action is to simply mash the attack button and flail until you've cleared the area of enemies. Your character will often strafe when attacking and moving at the same time, though the behavior isn't consistent. Turning to face foes, therefore, can be an exercise in futility. To make matters worse, the camera routinely flies upward when engaging in close combat, giving you a great view of the top of your character's head and little else. You'll ultimately spend most of your time in battle blindly slashing until the music cues you that the threat is gone.
The touch screen acts as the game's hub, presenting you with options to switch out characters on the fly, change jutsus and projectile weapons, look at the map, or meditate. Meditation replenishes your Ki, which in turn allows you to use your jutsu techniques. The maps are well-constructed, though the objectives can be confounding at times.