Danish developers IO Interactive have made a name for themselves with violent titles for a mature audience. From their breakout success the Hitman series, to Freedom Fighters and Kane & Lynch, violence has been a common ground. And although there is quite a lot of violence in Mini Ninjas there is no blood, and the violence actually only serves to set animals free from an evil spell (sort of like why Sonic jumps on robots).
The first thing that strikes me when I get up close and personal with Mini Ninjas is the visual style. Beautifully designed environments, characters and objects. Everything is as sweet as candy and if there was a toy line I would be lining up to buy it all. But don't be deceived by the looks. Even though Mini Ninjas is aimed at younger gamers it still manages to deliver a few interesting ideas in terms of gameplay.
You can make your way through the adventure by mashing buttons and using very simple methods, but there is a lot more to the game than what meets the eye. The six ninjas all have unique skills - the main hero Hiro can possess animals and sneak his way past patrols or use a Matrix-esque ability to stop time and target enemies to unleash a flurry of attacks. During the adventure Hiro will save other ninjas and as he does so they to will become playable. You can switch between the different characters at any time using the best tool for the problem at hand.
Hiro's best friend Futo is a big and strong character who will make use of his strength to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Hiro's love interest Suzume is very fast and agile and owns a flute that can hypnotise and stun her enemies. There are three more ninjas, Tora, Kunoichi and Shun, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
While Mini Ninjas holds a lot of charm we are not entirely convinced of its technical merits. It looks a bit crude on the high definition consoles and even though the design goes a long way to conceal it could have been prettier to look at. It is also hard to tell whether or not some of the abilities and skills are of a gimmicky nature. And perhaps more importantly will IO Interactive be able to perfect the balance of allowing mindless button mashing and still provide a challenge for those who wish to make use of more advanced techniques? We will have those answers soon.
Mini Ninjas is certainly something different from IO Interactive, perhaps not the game we were expecting from the Danes, but certainly something worth a closer look this September.