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Mini Ninjas Adventures

(Side Kick LTD; US: 29 Jun 2012)

Are you tired of Fruit Ninja but want to continue to pretend that the random waving of your arms accomplishes something worthwhile? Have you always wished that you could be as cool as Ralph Macchio? Are you looking for a game that will motivate you to periodically get off the couch and heave your enormous hindside flailingly around the living room? Is your rotator cuff still intact, despite your better efforts? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Mini Ninjas Adventures is for you.


I’ll be honest: I picked up this game because I thought that my kids would like it. I was right, and with good reason: the controls are intuitive, the levels are short and fast-paced, and rewards and power-ups fall like rain. Plus, what kid doesn’t want to be a ninja? As a Kinect game, Mini Ninjas Adventures allows kids (and grownups) to use their hands, arms, and feet to control an avatar—Hiro, the littlest ninja—as he fights to complete his ninja training and rescue his friends from Generic Asian Bad Guy.


The controls have an organic feel that makes them easy to learn—just swing your right arm to slice with your sword, kick with either foot to stun or knock back an enemy, and move left or right in physical space to move your avatar in the corresponding direction onscreen. As you gain experience, you earn more weapons and fighting tricks, like a bow and arrow, throwing stars, a magical attack that knocks down multiple enemies at one blow, a defensive stance that can absorb and deflect damage, and even a desperate cry for help from your friends when things get really bad.


Each attack (or defense) is activated by a different arm gesture that mirrors the way that weapon is used in real life. For instance, when you need to put away your sword and grab your bow and arrow, you simply reach over your left shoulder as though you’re grabbing a bow that’s strapped to your back. You hold your invisible bow in front of yourself with your left hand and pull back with your right as though you’re actually firing an arrow.


But the best, most creative use of the Kinect controls is the “phone a friend” attack. When the attack is ready (when you’ve gathered enough powerups), you simply shout “NINJA” at the top of your lungs while continuing to do whatever it is that you’re doing in a desperate attempt to stay alive until your friends can rescue you—which is pretty embarrassing to do in front of other adults, actually, so my advice is to have a small child handy to do the shouting for you. Yelling indoors? Heck yeah, dude, kids love yelling.


What really surprised me about Mini Ninjas Adventures is that it offers some story progression and even role-playing elements to appeal to the grownup gamer. Don’t get me wrong, this is not Fable set in Japan, nor is it the next Skyrim. But your little Ninja does gain abilities as you play through the levels, and at the end of each stage, you are given the opportunity to put points into a variety of stats, which impact your performance in subsequent stages. You can choose to increase your health and take more damage, or you can buff up your various attacks and hope that you can K.O. your enemies before they hit you. You can also increase your defensive score, which makes your magical shield easier to activate and more likely to deflect an opponent’s attack.


My main complaint with Mini Ninjas Adventures is that the controls, while intuitive and easy to learn, are sometimes hard to execute flawlessly, especially as more and more gestures are added. There have been times that I have been trying to block an attack and ended up drawing my bow instead, occasionally with disastrous results. But compared to other Kinect games, flukes like this are few and far between. Additionally, and somewhat oddly, it seems that the smaller the player, the more precise the controls. My four-year-old never seems to draw the wrong weapon, and her play style is pretty much whole-body button-mashing, which is at once terrifying and awesome.


The other complaint I have about Mini Ninjas Adventures is that it has a way of making me feel like an asthmatic hippopotamus. Make no mistake, this is a physical game, and as I got into the higher levels with a dozen or so waves of enemies, each of which requires multiple hits to defeat,  I would find my pasty, chubby gamer-self getting more than a little winded and sweaty at the end of a round. When I have to pause my video game to put on a sports bra, maybe it’s time to rethink my otherwise sedentary lifestyle.


Mini Ninjas Adventures is the aerobic equivalent of sneaking pureed broccoli into the spaghetti sauce. My kids and I had so much fun leveling up and fighting endless waves of Mongol-esque hordes (who look strangely like Marvin the Martian clones) that we hardly noticed that we were moving our bodies in a way that could—to the untrained eye—be construed as “exercise.” It won’t satisfy a serious gamer as a main course, but unlike the average “fitness” game, MNA’s focus remains firmly on the story and the action. And in that way, it’s a perfectly lovely, light-and-fluffy, delicious gaming dessert.

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