Game: Mini Ninjas Adventures
Developer: Side Kick LTD
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only (Requires Kinect)
In its first incarnation, Mini Ninjas was a highly entertaining, super-deformed action romp with oodles of charm and playability. An ideal choice for the family, or for younger gamers, it is a slept on title, and one that can be enjoyed on all three of the main home console platforms. Hell, the Wii version may even have been the best, and it isn’t often you can say that. IO Interactive has handed the reigns of their shuriken flinging posse to Side Kick LTD, who are in charge of this sequel which has been some three years in the making. Rather than build on the excellent third person combat of the original, the new developers have taken Hiro and his likeable company of ninja buddies out of that genre and shoehorned them into the haphazard world of the Xbox Kinect peripheral, for a kind of Space Invaders meets Whac-A-Mole action title.
Whether they are cute, cartoon style ninjas, or Hayabusa-esque bloodthirsty badasses, ninjas are supposed to move with grace, fluidity and speed. These are not three words that you would ever associate with the Kinect peripheral.
Your on-screen avatar is at the bottom of the screen and moving from side to side will move your character. Enemies, obstacles and projectiles approach your player, and it is your job to avoid or dispatch them. There are three planes upon which the hazards appear, with each requiring a different weapon to be used. A sword is used to take down close range foes, with a shuriken or a bow and arrow used for taking down mid and long ranged targets. There are magical attacks to use too, and a handy kick move which can be used to push encroaching baddies back a little. You can block and parry, and even summon a bunch of your ninja crew to come and help you.
There are 21 levels to conquer in Story Mode. Over the course of the game you are able to level up by collecting XP dropped by enemies, add new attacks and spells to your arsenal, and even add new ninja brethren to your entourage, increasing the potency of your summon attack. There are some fun, score-attack-style minigames to conquer too, which are a welcome change of pace. Everything is wrapped up with an excellent presentation and a wonderfully narrated set of introductory and between-level cut scenes, all of which tell the meat and potatoes of the story.
This all sounds great in theory, but as with many Kinect titles, the accuracy of the device scuppers any long term enjoyment. The three weapons are selected by acting out the motions of drawing a sword from over your shoulder, doing the same on the opposite side for your bow, or putting your hands out to the side for the throwing stars. You then use each weapon by mimicking how you would do so if you were tooled up in real life. Blocking is activated by placing your hands on your head, and the various magical attacks all have corresponding commands, which can be used once you clasp your hands together in front of you like Joe Musashi would do in Shinobi before using his kick-ass spells.
When it works, it feels great. It is immensely satisfying to shout the “NINJA!” command that summons your ninja assist barrage, or successfully pulling off a spell such as the one activated by jumping up and down. The Kinect does not always play ball, however, and can quite often be unresponsive or inaccurate. In the weapons stakes, I found that a slower, more measured hand gesture will reap a better result. The trouble is, the enemies approach thick and fast, and the game requires quick changes between weapons to deal with them. You don’t have time to mess about with being a slowcoach.
VERDICT: It is a shame that we find ourselves criticising the hardware yet again, because the idea here is sound. When everything does click into place, the gameplay resembles something like a cross between a shooter (think of classic arcade action game Cabal) and a rhythm action game, and is rendered with real panache, the bright, almost cel-shaded graphics and wide variety of well-designed enemies are a real treat for the eyes, and the little ninjas, animals, hell, even the skeletons, are all just too damn cute. They deserve better!