Friday, 11 June 2010

EDGE 200 - #74, Mini Ninjas

Prestigious UK-based gaming magazine EDGE celebrated their 200th issue last year with the world's first split run of 200 different magazine covers. Only 200 editions of each of the 199 images (plus a subscriber-only LittleBigPlanet cover) were issued; I ended up getting an original 80s OutRun cover. Even better, they released a limited postcard set of all 200 covers to new subscribers, which I couldn't resist. Now I've played my fair share of games, but with so little time and a semblance of a social life to also try and manage, there are many titles that have passed me by. To make up for this I'm using the postcard set as a framework, and am going to try and play through all (or as many as is possible) of the games featured in the list of 200 that I have yet to experience. The order I get through them is random, but it'll be interesting (and hopefully fun). However there aren't actually 200 individual games, which will make the task slightly easier (some games run across several postcards - Final Fantasy VI has four images to its name, for example).

For a full list of the EDGE 200 images click here.

Name: Mini Ninjas
Developer: IO Interactive

Touted as a self-conscious step away from the deeply serious and 'mature' likes of the Hitman and Kane & Lynch series of games, Mini Ninjas pays a little tribute to the developer's past (well, there's a tiny focus on stealth), but is mostly an attempt at building a new franchise. The Mini Ninjas of the title, each of who have different characteristics, are gradually unlocked as you progress and should - in theory - have made for a dynamic, varied experience. In practice that isn't the case. You never really need to take control of any of the other ninjas, although Futo - fat ninja with a wooden mallet - is handy at taking down the larger enemies. So the other five characters (you start out as the youngest, Hiro), ranging from flute-wielder Suzume to Tora, who cutely thinks that he's a tiger, are ultimately cosmetic; by all means play as them, but the overall experience of Mini Ninjas doesn't change enough as a result.

Aiming squarely at the younger gamers so entranced by Traveller's Tales' excellent Lego Star Wars series, Mini Ninjas doesn't have the luxury of that game's pretty-famous license to fall back on. There's a similar emphasis on collecting things, and although the journey from village to ultimate showdown is linear, the levels are commendably open and encourage exploration, while combat is brisk, a simple two-button system of stun and attack, upon which an array of magic spells and power attacks are built. All this, coupled with the crisp storybook-style visuals, mean the opening hours fly by. This opening section is all very pleasant, and quite relaxing.

In the later sections of the game Mini Ninjas almost throws away all this goodwill - there's a boss battle against a large samurai owl that exposes how bad the camera is in situations that involve any degree of dynamism, a final castle that is tedious in the extreme and possibly the most infuriating section of any game I've played in recent months: an escape from an avalanche in which progress feels like an extreme case of trial and error. Or maybe I'm just rubbish at games.

Hopefully any sequel - and the end of the game certainly hints that Mini Ninjas 2 wouldn't be the most unlikely event - will push forward the idea of a gang of ninjas, perhaps in the form of online/offline co-op. Overall Mini Ninjas is worth playing, if only for the boss whose attack is a deadly fart.

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