Never Laugh At The Short Ninja – Mini Ninja Adventures Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Coming at you with all the fury of a miniature tidal wave is the Arcade Kinect title Mini Ninja Adventures. Is this spin-off of the 2009 title just too tiny to deliver, or do good things truly come in small packages?
Mini Ninja Adventures tells the story of a young ninja named Hiro and his quest to become the most powerful ninja ever. However, all his friends are stronger, faster, stealthier, and, of course, taller than him. These facts eat away at him until one day he finds himself in front of a mysterious talisman in his master’s study. Drawn to its unknown power, he takes the object, hoping to benefit from it during his morning training. Unfortunately, the talisman was keeping an evil being in check, and Hiro’s possession of it unleashes the darkness upon the land. Waking up some time later, Hiro finds the country under attack and his friends gone. He then sets out to rescue everyone and right his wrongs.
Our tale only presents itself here and there between sections of gameplay, and isn’t anything overly special. It’s yet another tale of an unlikely hero put in a special situation, unlocking his true potential in the process. While there is nothing blatantly wrong with the story, it’s just been done so many times before and comes across as a little boring.
Thankfully, the tale sits in the backseat and lets gameplay take the wheel, and this is where the game truly shines. The basic premise is simple: destroy all enemies coming at you wave by wave. Gamers are able to do this by moving left and right across a 2D plane, with enemies coming in ranks, either up close, afar, or at a middle ground. Players have many ways to dispatch these foes, including a sword, bow, magic, throwing stars, or even calling upon other ninjas for assistance. Each ability or weapon has its own range and power, with an optimum time to use them.
Your starting weapon is your sword, and is very simple to use. Players need only slash left and right at their opposition with their right hand, as though they were holding the sword themselves. After three successful attacks in a row, Hiro will utilize a powerful spinning slash for extra damage. This tool is your go-to item to deal with enemies directly in front of you, and it does a fair amount of damage.
For the enemies hiding in the back ranks, your trusty bow should make short work of them. With this weapon equipped, simply hold your left hand out forward, and with your right hand, reach out then pull back to shoot. While it sounds simple, the mechanic suffers from very inaccurate tracking, only registering when the game seems to feel like it. Perhaps it’s down to the nature of the movement, but it’s nearly impossible to play a round without failing to shoot several times. When it does happen to work, though, the weapon reaches enemies at the very back of the field, and is capable of rapid fire (if you’re lucky) to make up for the weaker punch.
To deal with everything in-between, there are throwing stars, which can be used with either hand. After equipping them, simply throw as you see fit with the hand of your choice to unleash a storm of shiny sharp stars. These tools are also fairly weak, but unlike the bow, there is no issue in picking up movements, so players can unleash them as quickly as they see fit. Enemies in the middle of the field will be eating steel for dinner, as these are probably the most fun weapon to use.
Are you being overrun? Well, you have three options: call for help, unleash magic, or kick away close foes like you’re the king of Sparta. As you progress the story, you’ll free more of your ninja brethren form captivity, and can unleash them upon your enemy. Simply yell “Ninja!” at your TV and they’ll begin going to town on them, leaving destruction in their wake. One problem comes from the vocal queue, however, as it seems your foes can trigger it for you. The sounds your adversaries make can (and will) be picked up by your sensor, causing an accidental cry for help, which can waste your chance to use them on just one or two peons – which will probably infuriate many gamers when they’re facing down a full roster of enemies while low on health.
If you’re the mystic type, magic is at your disposal. As you defeat foes, they may drop magical containers, which then fill your spell meter. Once full, simply bring your hands to your chest, and you’ll enter spell mode. Here time is slowed, and you’re able to line up a powerful blast by pushing your hands forward. This is most helpful for dealing with lines of enemies at a time, and should only be used in desperation.
Now, some enemies might be packing light shields, or you might simply have too many foes up close to you. What do you do? Kick them in the face, of course — you’re a ninja! Simply kick those suckers as though they were right in front of you, and they’ll wind up pushed back, stunned, or both, allowing for you to get some breathing room, or slash away at their now-exposed flesh (yelling “This is Sparta!” is optional).
As you defeat enemies, they might also drop experience icons. Pick up enough of these and you’ll eventually level up. Each level gives you two points to put into the category of your choice, including total heath, chance to land critical hits, and magical power. Although these RPG elements are fairly light, they allow players to gradually upgrade their characters to better deal with tougher enemies while also giving a small degree of customization.
Having trouble with certain weapons? Fear not, as several mini-games are available to help familiarize you with your tools of flippy destruction. These sub-events task you with destroying as many practice dummies as possible within certain time limits, and focus on one weapon. If it’s just a challenge you’re looking for, this mode presents three increasing difficulties for you to test your mettle. Whether it’s for training purposes or showing off your killer ninja skills, mini-games do a decent job of adding some extra life to the title. Overall, gameplay in Mini Ninja Adventures is fantastically fun, proving that Kinect has a great place in the Xbox Live Arcade.
In terms of graphics, MNA is pretty easy on the eyes but does feature a blip or two. While the title has a nice degree of care in enemy movement and attack animation, environments, character design, and beautiful, bamboo-on-wood styled cutscenes, Hiro himself is a bit of an oddball. No, I’m not making fun of him for being short; rather, he has several issues in his animation. Our protagonist doesn’t turn as he moves from left to right, instead scuttling around while facing forward like a hermit crab who’s downed seven-too-many energy drinks. On top of this, his arms attempt to mimic the players’ as they move, but fails terribly, mashing his arms about like a wacky, waving, inflatable arm-flailing tubeman. Although your attention will mainly be on the evil beings trying to end your life, when you notice your character you’ll definitely be shocked or distracted at his actions and movements.
If there is one part of MNA adventures that stands out, that would be its soundtrack. The title’s opening theme is absolutely gorgeous, featuring nothing but flutes and fretted instruments passing the melody back and forth between each other, possibly played on (if not emulating) the shamisen and shakuhachi. Combat, on the other hand, ignores pitches and focuses on heavy taiko-styled drumming, which creates a tense battle atmosphere. The soundtrack is very simple overall, but brilliant nonetheless, and is one I hope to add to my personal collection.
When you’re done flipping around and slashing foes, Mini Ninja Adventures proves to be a fantastic and entertaining Arcade Kinect title. While it has a few tracking issues, wonky animation in places, and some audio oversights, the title still delivers immensely fun and fairly in-depth gameplay, and sports a wonderful Japanese-themed soundtrack. Running back and forth across the living room pretending to be a ninja will appeal to both the younger audience and the young at heart. So strap on your katana, load up your throwing stars, and get ready to battle ancient forces!
Final Score: 4.0 / 5.0 and a magical talisman not containing an ancient evil.
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