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If ever you dreamt of a time when you could be the Hero of an Odyssey that required no assistance from the Search Engine Seer or an Informed Offspring, Mini Ninjas will shatter your dreams and break your heart.
Never mind. The concept is so gleefully enticing: You're a kick-arse little Ninja, Hiro, who starts the adventure by cruising around Ninja Mountain in search of the lost Ninjas. You work your way through your adventure, collecting skills, items, recipes, ingredients and valuables. You re-fuel by eating apples or bush berries or sushi.
Yep, you're in Ninja-land, with 100 per cent Japanese-flavoured mise-en-scene, from the buildings to the accented English spoken by your 'spiritual' (er, gaming) guide. It's like arriving in another country... sort of. And you can get lost in there if you aren't careful.
Not long after I arrived on Ninja Mountain, I started to notice there were things I could be doing with those controls in my hand, if only I knew which combination to use them in. I tried to climb a wall but I couldn't do it. I ran in circles trying to find something to eat. I watched Suzume (one of the two girl ninjas) make everyone dizzy with her flute (boo! I wanted a mallet), and I wondered if there was something else I should be doing for maximum impact.
Enter the Informed Offspring. Who wisely taught me the benefits of meditating to build my 'Ki', or energy. And how to back-flip my way up a wall. And how to free the animals that have been captured and transmogrified into Samurai... and the ones in cages. And send fireworks attached to arrows into the sky. Just because you can.
@Mr9: I usually like to celebrate victories.
I'm extremely fond of Mini Ninja's ability to expose my kids to meditation and caring for animals. Of course, I do wonder if they take these concepts away with them and think to themselves, "Hmm. I just nailed that maths test. Perhaps I should meditate." Somehow I doubt it.
In fact, the whole idea of meditation is that you, um, actually meditate. It's not just pressing 'up on the D-pad' button to achieve Has Meditated. Then again, meditation might not make for such a thrilling game.
Still: details, details. I'm not going to complain about introducing interesting concepts. In our house, we say, 'Garbage in, garbage out'. In other words, if you put garbage into your brain, what can you expect to come out? If my kids know what meditation is, all the better for them.
My main challenge with Mini Ninjas was actually learning the possibilities, permutations and combinations of the controller (as is usually the case with games and me). The way to solve this, according to @Mr9 is to spend time messing around with the game. Time that unfortunately I (and probably many other parents) don't have.
I guess you have to ask if it matters that you can't intuit your way through the gaming process -- that you have to rely on kids or some random gamer's online tips in order to know what to do.
I'd say if the game is fun enough -- and I think Mini Ninjas is -- it doesn't matter. Gaming solo has its place (I'm still on a mission to beat Andoku), but I'll always say there's more fun to be had when you have a side-kick. (Or, er, a drinking buddy?)
@libby_ol: Thought I was a narrative ninja. Now I realise I'm actually a pint-sized environmentalist. @GeekDadGamer: Nothing wrong with being pint-sized. Particularly if you are a tepid alcoholic beverage.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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