I’ve just played through the Mini Ninjas demo. While playing, I thought some things. I will now share these things with you.
Main thing, really, is: my goodness, it’s just so lovely.
Okay, so immediately, there’s a lot of Zelda: The Wind Waker to it. From the cutesy cartoon image, to the way combat works, to the character designs, the linear-except-to-go-fetch-something gameplay and suchlike, there’s a hell of a lot of Link’s Gamecube-based adventure here. That is, of course, a fantastic thing. The Wind Waker was a wonderful game, still one of the strongest of the series, so anything that appears even remotely similar is going to stir something in me.
Of course, Mini Ninjas has some really clever mechanics about it. Firstly, in a manner not dissimilar to Trine, you can switch freely between a collection of different characters. The two available in the demo are the swift-stealthy-ninja-type and the big-hulking-hammer-man (no, I can’t remember their actual names). There’s a whole range of greyed-out boxes, implying there are a few more to be seen yet. While the different character types aren’t as obviously suited to particular segments as they are in Trine, it’s easy to see how switching between them could be an integral part of the game, which is an interesting prospect.
More immediately exciting, and impossibly awesome, is the ability to take on the forms of wildlife creatures, in order to outwit your crazed samurai opponents. Mini Ninjas is totally based around animals. You gain experience by freeing them from cages; enemies magically turn into them when you ‘kill’ them; and there’s this possession mechanic. So, for example, take on the form of a nearby frog, and hop innocently past a vast collection of angry swordsmen ahead. Or stumble upon a wild boar, take on the form of that, and plough through them, sending them flying every which way. It’s absolutely delightful, and I really hope it’s integrated to a fully exploitable degree, with the chance to use a combination of these mechanics to sly your way through the game.
More than anything else, though, Mini Ninjas has such a whimsical, childlike charm and innocence to it, one that’s easily up there with the traditional videogaming greats. I found it almost impossible to contain my glee when I accidentally strayed “off-course” while rowing in my hat-boat, and suddenly the game became an adventurous white-water rafting experience. And then a fishing game! And then one of immense discovery! It’s a demo that kept me completely wide-eyed and excited for every single second. I hated that it had to end.
Point about the “off-course” thing above: the level design is spectacularly good, judging by what’s on show here. It’s pretty much linear. But, like all the best linear games, it never feels like it. In the demo, there are a couple of routes around one bit, and both provide a disarmingly different experience. But it feels like there are countless ways you could go. You follow the route your exploratory instinct tells you… but actually, that’s what the game wants you to do. It’s just never explicit about it. Really masterful work.
So, yeah, colour me excited. I will, no doubt, have more thoughts when I’ve played the full game. I’ve read a few hands-on articles in which people have expressed concerns about the controls, or the camera, or whatever. On the PC, I found the controls to be fine, though the camera was occasionally unhelpful. I never minded. I’ll never mind about stuff like that when the game exudes such instinctive beauty at every turn. Absolutely splendid, and I cannot wait for more.