It’s been almost two years since Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral was released and with it, a decent variety of games, from the good, to the bad, to the painfully mediocre. I’ve grown wary and each time I start up a Kinect game, I expect it to be lacking. Sometimes, thankfully, I’m wrong. Other times, I’m right. I’ll admit that I had the same dread when starting up Mini Ninjas Adventures. I really did want the game to be good, but the game unfortunately falls short.
I have to say I’m not familiar with the previous Mini Ninjas game, although it doesn’t seem that players need to be to enjoy Adventures’ story and its cute and colourful exterior. As it goes, it’s quite simple – Hiro, the (aptly named) hero of the story, picks up a magic relic in his Master’s chambers one day, only to release an evil samurai warlord who enslaves his friends. Hiro’s adventure is obviously second to the gameplay as there are barely any mentions of the story during most of the game’s 21 stages, although you can’t really blame developer Side-Kick as it’s clear that giving players a fun experience was their main intention.
Controls are simple, with Hiro standing at the bottom of the screen as you moving left and right to get him to do the same. Hiro’s sword can be swung with your right hand, although you also have access to a bow, which can be swapped with your sword by putting your left arm behind your head (and vice versa), and is used by making the pulling motions you would expect to with a real bow. Unfortunately, this is where Adventures has most of its issues. Firstly, there is a fair bit of lag between when you move and when Hiro does on screen, making it tricky to attack enemies that move around frequently. And boy, does Adventures get hectic quickly. Attacking with the bow was, by far, the problem that hindered my enjoyment of the game the most. As mentioned before, you have to act as though you are firing a real bow, but the Kinect doesn’t seem to play nice with motions you make in front of you. Turning on my side just confused the Kinect even more. Furthermore, attacks are only really registered when you perform them super slowly and precisely which, in later levels when things get more hectic, can make for quite a frustrating experience. Sword attacks are by far the most polished of the basic motions you can pull off, but it seems odd that you can only swing your sword horizontally. Hiro has two other special attacks: one that summons his ninja buddies to attack, which is handily activated by yelling “NINJA!”, and a magic attack activated by holding out your hands. Keeping fast on your feet and switching between weapons are probably the game’s greatest challenges given the speed at which enemy ninjas appear and the terrible controls.
It’s a real shame that the controls are a nuisance, because Side-Kick actually has some neat ideas happening with Adventures. Gameplay is a little bit tower defense-ish, with Hiro having to defeat multiple waves of attacking enemies. These enemies appear on what can best be described as a kind of grid, with up to three rows of five enemies making their appearance at any given time. They’ve got all kinds of different characteristics too, such as your standard swordsmen, archers, or larger, tank-type enemies that take and deal out damage like there’s no tomorrow. What makes gameplay so frantic is that they tend to move around on this grid a fair bit and it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed with enemies attacking you in the front row. Due to this variety in enemies, you’ll also have to switch between weapons quite frequently which isn’t always easy given the speed at which enemy ninjas appear. Adventures does get a little bit strategic about this at times, allowing you to kick enemies back, which is especially useful when you want to buy yourself some time or knock a bomb carrying foe back into a row of nasty enemies. Certain enemies also drop powerups, such as a reflective shield or one that doubles your damage. I’m not sure if these powerup drops are random or not, but I did find the drops to be ill-timed in comparison to the enemies I would face after picking them up.
Adventures isn’t a very long title, with each of the game’s 21 stages taking about 10 or 15 minutes to beat. To increase longevity and really tap into that ‘party spirit’ that the majority Kinect games supposedly need to have, there are also a number of minigames that for the most part repeat what you go through in the core game. Its intentions are noble, but with no real improvements in the controls (but how could there be, really?), the minigames are only a novelty for so long. The colourful graphics lend themselves well to the cute cast of ninjas and the soundtrack is predictably oriental but otherwise pleasant to listen to, although the enemies’ high-pitched voice acting got quite grating after a while.
It’s too bad Adventures is a Kinect game. The game is actually quite fun before you lose your patience with the controls; you hardly ever feel like a ninja jumping from spot to spot, defeating your enemies with swiftness and deadly accuracy. Adventures probably could have been better as a standard, controller-based title. Time rolls on and the Kinect novelty continues, but when will gamers get to stop expecting Kinect games to be bad and look forward to some quality gaming that you can play without a controller?