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I was personally quite surprised by what Mini Ninjas turned out to be. It's an unholy union of Psychonauts, Assassin's Creed, and Lego Star Wars. It's a delightful game with a good sense of humor and very intuitive gameplay. It also offers a lot of options, a lot of freedom, and plenty of beautiful landscapes to explore.
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The gameplay is absolutely great. There's a lot to do and it's all really easy to pick up. The core gameplay is simple. You need to go through a series of areas, kill 4 evil samurai captains, and finally kill the evil samurai overlord trying to conquer the land. This means a lot of hacking and slashing through the minions that stand in your way and a lot of acrobatics to get past the traps.
These core elements of the game play out well. The combat is fun and as simple as you want it to be. You can stick to simple slashing for most of the fights. You could also happily use kuji magic, potions, fancy acrobatics, bombs, caltrops, shurikens, and stealth to work against them. It really is your call. The game rewards you with easier fights and satisfying victories when you pull off a successful ambush. It is more than possible to keep it simple though. I really like it when a game does this. It just offers you that extra bit of choice.
There's also a lot of acrobatics. This is where the Assassin's Creed part comes in. The forest levels don't offer much, but there are 5 castle levels that require running and jumping. These are also surprisingly open levels. There are usually a few options to get through to the end. There's usually an option for straight combat, rooftop jumping, or running ropes.
As you explore, you'll find new ninjas. You can switch to them to use a bow and arrow, defeat large enemies, use a large spear, etc.
Finally, there's a big exploration side that you can delve into if you wanted. There are hidden statues in each area. There are also coins, animals to free, spells to gather, and flowers to find. Just about all of this is optional. That's important. If you want to just ignore most of it, you can. You won't have as much experience or as many potions, but that isn't too tough of an obstacle. I personally didn't find many of the game's secrets and finished with only a little difficulty. It's there for anyone who wants to just explore the levels at their leisure.
I'd also just like to add that the camera is perfect. I only ever had one spot where I couldn't see properly. That's pretty impressive in this type of game.
There really are no obvious faults. The gameplay changes at a fairly steady rate, but I do wish that they'd done a few new things with the enemies. They start to feel fairly repetitive toward the end. It wasn't a big deal though.
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I just love the look of this game. Mini Ninjas uses a lot of beautiful and simple artwork. The models are fairly simple, but they are free flowing and natural. The landscapes are also not very detailed, but they just have a nice look to them. There is a serenity to the backgrounds that is enjoyable.
There is one thing that really deserves mention though, the environments are incredibly detailed and varied: there are little villages, scenic temples, and lush forests; the grounds around the samurai camps are full of burning fields. Then you'll move through a very detailed and realistic snowstorm until it winds up to a volcano fortress and burning castle. This great mix of environments earns them a lot of points in my book.
It may not be Crysis, but it's a lovely and unique world. It is ultimately up to personal taste, but I think any fan of a simple, clean, look, atmospheric but not distracting, will really enjoy these graphics.
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The story was also surprisingly good for a fairly simple game. An evil samurai lord rose up again and is turning cute forest creatures into minions. Your master has already sent all of the better trained ninjas off on their journey, but none of them made it back. So it looks like he has to send off your young ninja and his large friend to investigate the new lord and free the other ninjas.
It's a fairly standard series of bosses from that point onward until the final battle. It's a decent story though and the end is pretty satisfying. One thing that was really nice was the little jokes along the way though. It's a fairly simple set of humor, but it's funny. A minion accidentally points an arrow at his captain, the captains are too afraid to report to the overlord, and each of the ninjas is a little odd.
The best thing in my opinion was the extras though. There are movies for each of the 6 ninjas and they are each funny, well animated, and a little touching. They're just really nice touches and I hope that everyone gets to see them.
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It doesn't seem to need too much. It states that it need a 3.2 Ghz processor, 512 MB of RAM and a video card more recent than the ATI 1300X or the Nvidia Geforce 6600. I used my XPS with 2.6 GHz dual core processor, 3 gig of RAM, and an Nvidia 8700M GT card. I didn't have any problems at all. There was no lag even in some pretty heavy fighting with lots of particle effects.
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I absolutely love this game. It's a great title. It's unique, it has a great art style, the combat is pleasing, the platforming is pleasing, and there's so many little things that you can do. I was very pleasantly surprised at just how good it was. The play time comes out to about 10 hours. It took me about 9 hours to finish it, but I skipped a fair bit of the exploration in some of the larger levels.
I'll also add that it's a good family friendly game. If you're trying to introduce someone to gaming or want to find a nice title for a kid, then this is a good choice. You never "kill" the samurai, you just release them from the dark magic and turn them back into cute woodland animals. It's fairly intuitive and friendly to newcomers. They shouldn't feel intimidated by it at all.
There's really not much else to say. It's a very enjoyable game that only costs $30. There's also a very full demo if you want to test it out.