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Arcade Kinect games up to this point haven’t provided the best entertainment. Fruit Ninja was arguably the best of the bunch but even it received a generally mediocre reception from many. With that in your mind and the general negativity surrounding all things Kinect, the expectations for Side-Kick’s first game and the latest Mini Ninjas installment, entitled Mini Ninjas Adventures, were understandably low. Not even extremely low expectations and the complete absence of hype could save Mini Ninjas Adventures from falling past mediocrity into pure disappointing heartbreak.
The first Mini Ninjas was not an awful game, it provided a good amount of cutesy content and solid enough action to keep you entertained for a few hours and it’s clear that Side-Kick was attempting to do the same in this Kinect fueled sequel. But to allow that to happen, two things need to occur. A) The Kinect integration has to be fun and unique and B) It has to work. Mini Ninjas Adventures failed mightily in both categories.
The core concept behind Mini Ninjas Adventures is simple and respectable: Provide a good, cheap Kinect experience that isn’t too deep but is fun and accessible enough for both adults and kids to handle it. It’s the execution that fails as the Kinect integration just isn’t up to par. The gameplay remains simple as all you do is slide right to left and destroy waves of enemies, some attempting to kill you with archery and some taking the more in your face approach and slicing at you with a fiery Katana. You attack these enemies with either your sword, bow and arrow, or throwing stars. Bow and arrow attacks enemies furthest away, throwing stars attack people in the middle, and of course sword gets the closest of people.
This all sounds fine but it’s the part where swapping between weapons or even just using the bow and arrow is unresponsive and frustrating from beginning to end. You use the bow by pretending to shoot an actual bow, good idea sure but the Kinect seems to never want to recognize you attempting to shoot an arrow. Leaving you standing there while enemies are wailing damage at you through air or fire from cannons and you’re just struggling to get the Kinect working well enough so you can shoot one arrow at the guy with the cannon. Also, it takes around six arrows to kill them. In the later sections of the game, enemies become much more prevalent and with that comes them doing more damage to you. This is when the frustration piques and you realize you would be better to just lay in the floor in front of you than actually play Mini Ninjas Adventures.
Apart from the three main weapons, you also have a magic attack and a “Ninja” attack. You activate the magic attack by placing your hands in front of your face and either pushing outwards, forcing your hand downwards, or jumping. Ninja is activated by yelling “Ninja.” Both of these actions work surprisingly well and never proved any problems throughout my duration playing the game. Swapping between the aforementioned sword and bow and arrow, however, did.
You swap between the two by reaching over your right shoulder with your right hand to equip the sword and the left hand over the left shoulder to equip the bow and arrow. During certain waves the game will force you to switch between the two, which is obviously an attempt at some depth and excitement but it fails when the Kinect refuses to realize that you’re attempting to switch to your bow and arrow and instead assumes you’re just moving your left arm around. Thankfully, this is fixed by just reaching your arm out and touching your back slowly but in the heat of the moment, this becomes awfully hard to do without dying.
The cutesy nature of the previous Mini Ninjas follows through into this game as all characters have a very artistic look to them, reminiscent strongly to the movie Kung Fu Panda. There isn’t a whole lot of variety to what you’re seeing but most of it is pretty enough and maintains a good framerate so it’s at least passable.
It’s clear that Side-Kick wanted to provide some depth as it does have quite a bit of ways to attack and multiple enemy types (ranging from zombies to men who shoot lightning bolts from the sky) coming at you but it’s the execution that kills Mini Ninjas Adventures whenever it attempts to attain some excitement. One of the most interesting things Adventures attempts is that later in the game, waves seem to become more puzzle like than simple combat encounters, forcing you to scope out your moves before you actually attempt them. This is a wildly interesting concept that could have possibly made for a great game.
It pains me to admit that Mini Ninjas Adventures is as bad as it is because it undoubtedly provides some good ideas throughout the game. Forcing me to wonder just how good this game could have been. Possibly with more time to work with the Kinect hardware, Side-Kick could have succeeded in making their debut game a fun three hour experience to power through, but as it is, Mini Ninjas Adventures is just another disappointing Kinect game.
Note: I did attempt to recalibrate the Kinect multiple times throughout the review process but it was to no avail.
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