- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at a video game for the entire family.

Mini Ninjas (from Eidos and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $49.99) — A pint-sized master of Kuji magic and the martial arts bands together with ninja brethren to stop an evil samurai in this too-cute third-person action game.

For once not based on a licensed property, this original charmer should slice squarely through the heart of 10-year-olds in love with cartoony combat, humorous characters, talking animals and discovery.

Young players control Hiro, the young boy hero, who was trained by the birdlike Tengu. Hiro must journey forth from Ninja Mountain to liberate his pals, free forest animals and restore the balance of nature destroyed by a warlord.

Hiro eventually commands all weapons used by a ninja, including sword, throwing stars, smoke bombs, frenetic attacks, acrobatics, stealth maneuvers and magic.

His rescued buddies also become playable characters, each with their own strengths quickly accessible via a wheel-shaped menu. For example, for sheer brute strength, the beefy, bald Futo carries a hammer and can roll himself into a ball. For long-range attacks, the bowmaster Shun can be summoned with explosive arrows.

As Hiro or another ninja strike down the evil samurai’s minions, a group one might find in a Samurai Jack cartoon, the foes revert back to their original animal form and scamper away.

Next, what’s really too cute is Hiro then can possess the creatures. The player can move around as friends such as a fox, chicken, crane, boar and frog. Some of the animals, including a bear, also can be used to attack an enemy.

The wise young ninja also manages resources to quickly access weapons and spells. Additionally, he can pick and carry vegetation to make potions or collect coins to upgrade his arsenal. The resourceful little warrior even can use his hat as a boat to navigate a river filled with koi or as a shield to stop arrows from the Warlord’s archers.

Hiro also finds shrines by following trails of fireflies to unlock new spells. He must pick a specific flower from a field as a sacrifice before a dozen possible scrolls grant him powers such as creating fireballs, slowing time and unleashing tornadoes.

The nearly open-ended outdoor environments often — when foes are not attacking — drip with colorful scenes of serenity, filled with greenery, rivers and temples sprouting with an occasional fruit tree worth shaking to devour treats to restore health or a colorful flower to grab.

The game’s only shortcoming is a lack of cooperative play. Parents will be disappointed that they cannot jump in and control one of Hiro’s pals to fight alongside him.

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