Steam is home to a lot of crap, and I do mean a lot.. But it also is home to a number of hidden gems that no one really talks about much.
Mini Ninjas is one of those gems. A bit of an imperfect one, sure, but a gem nontheless. And like many hidden gems, it doesn't get a whole lot of attention.
The game is kinda an action adventure game, with small elements of RPG and stealth. You play the role of a ninja named Hiro, who is tasked with finding all his lost friends and saving the world while he is at it. A lot of pressure, I know, but then you are a ninja with the power to control the elements, so it shouldn't be too hard (Which kinda is a problem for the game, I'll explain later)
Being that you play the role of a ninja, stealth is a tool you'll be making a lot of use out of. As some might indicate, however, the stealth aspect of the game isn't really all that advanced, and oftentimes isn't used to avoid fights so much as it is to get the first strike in any given fight (or outright kill everyone in a patrol before they even have time to react). While it is possible to avoid fights, you won't want to in the early game, because you need to fight to gain XP and level up. Otherwise, the road ahead will be awfully harsh to those who don't kick enough butt. While quietly avoiding fights isn't encouraged (At least in the early game), the stealth system does indeed work very well, and in the late game, where by then you are already maxed out, it becomes much more viable.
When the time comes to fight, however, it is a mixed bag. Combat is simple, with a few basic attacks, a block breaker, and even a super move that can cause all sorts of pain for those unlucky to be the target of it. You also have a selection of items that can make fights go more smoothly, such as pepper bombs and potions that make arrows bounce off your face. However, the problem is that it IS simple, even to the point of simply mashing the two buttons until everyone is dead before moving on to the next fight. I myself don't mind it, but those seeking a deeper combat system might not enjoy the game as much.
Sure, as you progress through the game you'll unlock more ninjas to fight with, each having their own style (Such as the fat ninja's brute force hammer skills that can make fighting larger enemies blindingly easy, or the archer ninja's ranged combat skills). However, I never really did bother to use any of them besides the ninja you start with. In DK 64, the devs made it so that you had to use all the Kongs in order to beat the game, so you couldn't just march through the whole game with Donkey Kong the whole time. Not so much here, where you can get through the entire game without changing ninjas ONCE. Maybe on hard mode, you would have to swap out ninjas more often, but on normal mode it is rather pointless for the most part, and in some cases even more fun, since fighting larger enemies feels more satisfying when you have to put up a real fight to take them down, rather than swapping over to fat ninja and just wailing on them, stun locking them to death. And even moreso, the starter ninja is the only one who can use magic, and as you progress through the game, you'll learn how important magic is.
So, the combat is ok at best, the whole 6 ninja team gimmic is iffy when you can go through the whole game with the main star of the game just fine (and possibly makes the adventure so much more interesting and challenging), and stealth early on, while it does play a considerable role in the game, is mostly used for ambushing more than avoiding conflict altogether. And yet... I love this game.
Maybe it is because it reminds me of the glory days, back when we had games like Banjo & Kazooie 1 & 2, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Jak and Daxter... You know those kind of games? The ones where you feel like you are on a real adventure throughout an interesting, if sometimes even strange, world waiting to be explored. You start out in your humble village, venturing out chapter after chapter on your way to the big bad guy himself, taking out his generals and anyone else who dares to get in your way, while at the same time taking a moment to explore the area for goodies and new spells to unlock. It helps that the world and the music that fills it is quite appealing, making the journey all the more enjoyable. That, and it is around 9-10 hours on my first playthrough, so you get your money's worth for sure. Gotta love a game that keeps you busy for a nice long while.
As much as I'd like to yammer on and on, I'd like to wrap it up as a game that, while the gem is a bit cloudy, it is a gem nontheless, and a shame that it isn't more popular, let alone given a respected sequel (instead getting spinoffs on the Kinect and a Ipad runner.. Yeah, kinda a sad fate for the ninjas if you ask me).