IO's shift has to be one of the oddest in recent memory. From Hitman's brutality and Kane & Lynch's sweary language to a cel-shaded ninja jaunt? Our hero, er, Hiro, can even turn into a cute panda. If Kane and Lynch ever met a panda they'd blow it up with a bazooka...
Interestingly, Mini Ninjas borrows ideas from both of IO's recent worlds. You can go in stabby-stabby action style or sneak in like our favourite barcoded baldy. Maybe it's Hiro's dumpy stature, but the action reminds us of the Lego games. Speedy button-hammering is translated by Hiro into mad flourishes, but it's not exactly difficult.
Luckily, an arsenal of ninja tools and ninja pals keep things fresh. When Hiro's blade glances off burly hides it's time to swap-in lardy Futo for a bit of whack-a-ninja with his handy mallet. Alternatively, you could instead rummage around in Hiro's pocket for cherry bombs, shurikens or a ninja fireball. Cherry bombs are the best, exploding ninja squadrons into puffy clouds.
Hiro's magic is the backbone to Mini Ninjas' best stealthy moments. By simply waving his hands he can possess animals. Bringing down a feudal warlord's stronghold may seem tricky in chicken form, but what guard is going to give a hen a second glance as it clucks on through the entrance? Possess a larger animal - a panda or boar - and Hiro can unleash furry pain while the animal takes the spears and arrows...
The combat's ease means you don't have to worry about enemy encounters, but slinking around is satisfying enough to tempt you from brawling. Invading the castle of the Earth Lord - one of the nasty types poisoning the land - there's great fun to be had taking to the rooftops and legging it along lantern strings while guards foolishly patrol below. If Pixar made a Tenchu game we'd imagine it would look like this.
If only IO could up the combat stakes to make the softly-softly approach worthwhile. We're all for freedom to choose, but each choice has to earn its place. A mini fix could make for big fun.