Mini Ninjas is gorgeous, isn’t it? It’s beautiful in the way you can tell a child’s going to be really good at art; it’s simple, yet stylish, getting across whatever it was the child was trying to draw, and looking pretty good at the same time. Mini Ninja’s colours don’t go outside the lines. This may, or may not, be because there are no lines.
The art style seems to be indicative of how the game plays. Simple, yet stylish and refined, you’re tasked with finding out what’s going on, as you figure out that the evil samurai (who have some of the most adorable sounds and voices I’ve heard in a long time) are actually mystically enslaved woodland creatures, so, by killing them, you’re actually saving cute little animals. It’s all so quaint, it could be sickly. It just isn’t, for some reason.
I reckon it’s because it’s still kind of serious, despite the cutesy façade. It’s serious in the way a fairy tale can be serious, or a parable; there are people in trouble, and you and your motley band of ninjas have got to set things right. So you go about your task, freeing pandas and the like, knowing that you must do these things. All the while giggling when you hear the little samurai march past, because they sound so deathly serious, despite having the voices of angry children.
There are some clever little mechanics thrown in, too. You can possess any animal you find, which allows you to sneak past as a frog or rabbit, or charge through as a boar or a panda. Man, Panda’s get mean when they use those big bear claws. Swipe! SWIPE! But then you notice there’s a river, so you flip your comically oversized hat over, hop in, and row your way down, until you’re engulfed in white water rapids, and desperately paddling for your mini life. Then, suddenly, you’re in a lagoon, and there’s fish. Ah, so that’s what the fishing rod in your pack was for.
It’s a linear design disguised as exploration, and it does just as well at hiding its true nature as Hiro, the main character, does at hiding from samurai. And, what with him being a ninja, he does that pretty well. His friend Futo, a huge man with a mallet, not so much. But then he’s got a big hammer, so he makes up for his deficiencies in other ways. Suzume, the last friend unlocked in the demo, seems to just be a slightly weaker version of Hiro, but I’m sure she’ll have her uses in the full game. You can switch between them at will, in a sort of Trine kind of way, which is helpful when facing different obstacles in different ways. There’s also a bit of magic, like the possession of animals, and then, of course, fireballs and the like.
While the demo is pretty short, weighing in at just shy of 1GB, it’s hopefully indicative of a really clever adventure game in the vein of the better Zelda games. It’s kind of taken everyone by surprise, firstly coming from the developers of Hitman and Kane and Lynch, two notoriously brutal games, and by sneaking up on us with a sudden release date that’s only a few weeks away. I’m going to resist making a ninja pun about that, but really, I can’t wait to play more.
You can get the demo here.