Hiro is a terrible ninja. He’s not particularly stealthy, he doesn’t assassinate anyone, and he’s a lousy shot with his shuriken. That’s kind of the point, though: Mini Ninjas feels like an attempt to rebrand the ninja, putting aside all that nasty murder and theft and replacing it with cute widdle animals and magic powers. A good ninja lethally strikes before his victims even draw breath; a bad ninja, like Hiro, turns baddies into bunny rabbits then wanders off to pick a lovely bunch of flowers.
Mini Ninjas will make even the biggest, hardest hard-nut go ‘aww.’ It’s almost painfully adorable, with a charming bunch of super-deformed characters in a pleasant world based on Japanese mythology. It’s a shrunk-down version of the Wii game, with the same plot, the same mixture of third-person platforming and combat, and a largely similar style of play. Defeating the evil samurai sees you wandering the game world, doing quests, offing bosses and, well, you know the rest.
It’s nice to have a large three-dimensional world to explore, but many areas lack detail, making the fairly sparse environments feel, if anything, too large. Controlling your little gang of ninjas can be cumbersome thanks to a clumsy manual camera, dodgy aiming and mere lip service paid to stylus controls. Although it doesn’t take too long to get used to all this, the game never feels fluid or particularly satisfying, and exploration often feels like a chore.
That’s a shame because at times it can be quite fun, with plenty of items to smash, various sizes of monster to hit and lots of goodies to acquire. We’d have liked a few more secrets as a reward for exploration – and less linear environments – but, despite its faults, Mini Ninjas isn’t dull.
It is, however, hobbled by being on DS. It’s all very well fitting most of a console game onto a handheld but who, exactly, wants to spend 30 dollars on most of a game? For about the same price you can buy Mini Ninjas on Wii, which is better looking and a more snug fit for the 3D platforming, rather than making do with the watered-down DS version.
Sep 10, 2009