Mini Ninjas – first-look

Small but deadly

The incentive for choosing these characters seems to be mostly about seeing what kind of moves and combos you can get out of them using the simple combat system, as Hiro remains the most powerful of the lot – and the only one able to make use of the animals. There’s a reason all those other ninjas got outwitted by a bunch of foxes, rabbits and frogs. One place these might come in handy is during fights against bosses, although we only saw one of those, and it was a Hiro-only sequence anyway. We guess we’ll have to wait until nearer release day to find out if our hunch is correct.

Above screen taken from Xbox 360 version

The first boss is a massive armoured warrior wielding a gigantic sword. You fight him inside an otherwise empty room with a raised walkway running around the edge, at about head-height for the boss. He’s completely impervious to Hiro’s puny attacks, and for some reason it doesn’t seem possible to select Futo at this point. Hiro has to use smarts to outwit the hulking brute, and in true Zelda fashion the solution lies in making use of a nimble character and the sparse arena environment.

When the boss gets frustrated at not being able to land a strike, he’ll swing in a wild arc. Lure him close enough to one of the red pillars that support the roof, and when his sword gets stuck in the wood you’ll be able to dash up it, climb on top of him and start attacking his weak spot, like a cartoon version of Shadow of the Colossus.

Above screen taken from Xbox 360 version

Mini Ninjas is a game aimed at a far younger audience than any of developer Io’s previous efforts, but the company’s high production values haven’t been compromised because of this. There’s a full orchestral soundtrack, and the enemy soldiers bark orders to one another and sing squeaky-voiced marching chants recorded by Japanese actors – just one of many incidental details that will only be appreciated by players who know what they’re listening to, as there are no subtitles.

There are plenty of things for more experienced gamers to appreciate too, and the developers cite the Zelda series as one of their major sources of inspiration. We’ve mostly seen the action and fighting parts of the game during our brief demo, but along with the avalanche sled chase, we also got to see how the game rewards exploration with interesting places that power up your abilities along the way - for instance, we saw a part where it was possible to take an alternate route along a river after finding a hidden path, so it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll be railroaded through an entirely linear sequence of battles. Stay tuned for more updates as Mini Ninja’s September release sneaks up.

Apr 8, 2009

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