In some ways Mini Ninjas is a step back for IO Interactive. That’s likely to be your first impression, at least, if you’re fond of the uneven but intricate machinations of the Hitman series, or even the wannabe badassedness of Kane and Lynch. Peel away the smooth, vivid flourishes of the artwork and the Danish developer’s latest seems irredeemably old hat: placid running and jumping married to cute melee mash-fests, half a dozen playable characters (ranged, heavy, quick, etc), a dab of stealth, health potions, magic and QTE-laden boss fights.
Outlast the tutorial windows, though, and the game evolves into something more engaging: a second shot at Hitman: Blood Money‘s better tricks in a brighter setting, without the pressures of fan expectation. It’s not so much a step back as a canny evasive roll, affording IO’s creatives a little tactical breathing room.
You play Hiro, youngest of six juvenile ninjas dispatched by their dojo master to investigate rumblings of evil samurai mobilisation. The samurai in question are in fact animals, transformed and manipulated by dark energies, but not to worry, RSPCA subscribers – a few sword swipes is all it takes to restore a panda to normality.
As the game begins, the spear-wielding Kunoichi, musical Suzume, socially inept bowman Shun and mental Wolverine-alike Tora are languishing in the enemy’s clutches, leaving Hiro and his heavyweight friend Futo to carry the banner. You’ll discover, liberate and make use of your comrades as you progress, but Hiro is a pretty sound default: besides good all-round reach, speed and power, he’s the only one capable of casting “Kuji” magic spells, like fireballs and tornadoes. New spells (there are 12 in all) await at shrines dotted around the verdant levels.