IO Interactive isn’t known for cute and cuddly games, having the Kane & Lynch and Hitman franchises in their stables they have a reputation of putting out somewhat violent games. Mini Ninjas seems to buck that trend with the distinctly cuddly characters. Taking the tried and true cool route of Ninjas, IO Interactive gave the pint sized characters an almost Pixar-esque look making them not only cool, but cute.

To say that Mini Ninjas is a kid-friendly offering would be an understatement. The story follows Hiro, a young ninja who with the rare ability to use Kuji magic. It’s up to our little Hiro and is rather large friend Futo to rescue his fellow pint sized ninjas and defeat the Evil Samurai Warlord and his marauding samurai minions. It’s a pretty straightforward story that doesn’t offer much else. There’s no real substance or depth to the story and sadly, sadly substance and depth are in short supply throughout the game in other ways as well.

Each rescued ninja becomes a playable character with a unique skill, and you can switch among the troupe at any point. Skills range from an archer, magic to user to a big guy with a hammer. Most players will use Hiro the most since his ability to use the Kuji Magic gives him a variety of offensive options, from possessing the various wildlife to throwing fireballs or conjuring tornadoes. Hiro has a wide arsenal at his disposal and makes it a bit easier to fight the various enemies compared to his companions.

The secondary gameplay encourages open-world exploration, and involves quests to collect plants that can be used for medicinal purposes, retrieve sacred Jizo statues and locate hidden Kuji Magic scrolls. The Hidden Kuji Magic scrolls unlock new magic powers for Hiro, giving him a wide variety of spells that he can cast upon his opponents. While it’s great having a large arsenal at your disposal, it really isn’t necessary. Even on the hardest level there’s no strong challenge coming from the various enemies. It definitely feels like it was created for a younger audience, one that might not appreciate a certain degree of difficulty.

Combat in Mini Ninjas generally involves a it of button mashing, the X button is the primary attack while pressing the Y button delivers your basic Block Breaker stun attack, knocking enemies back on their heels. If you’re Hiro, pressing the right trigger will conjure your chosen Kuji spell. There are no combo moves or any complicated maneuvers, it’s really that simple. It may be because the games A.I. falls woefully short when it comes to any semblance of quality. The run of the mill samurai characters are extremely easy to beat, even on the Hard level and unfortunately it extends to boss battles as well. When battling a boss, you’re confronted with a simple button combination. Manage to complete it three times and the boss is defeated, it’s as easy as that. To make matters worse, the combat gets repetitive quickly, and offers little challenge or reward.

Unfortunately the game offers no co-op play, even though it would be a perfect candidate for it and there’s no multiplayer mode. If you focus solely on the main quest, it can be easily completed in under six hours. Thankfully Eidos has dropped the price of the game for the consoles to $50 for the XBox 360 and PS3 and $40 for the Wii. While it can still be considered too much for the game, since it feels more like an XBLA or PSN game than a full retail release, it’s nice to see a developer realize that not all games should charge $60.

Still, not all is gloom and doom for Mini Ninjas, although not much works in its favor. The visuals are exceptional. The world boasts an art style that dazzles through vibrant colors and clean visually appealing character design. The animation is fluid with simple special effects that are effective. I especially enjoyed having Hiro run around, watching and hearing his little feet pitter-patter. It definitely has an art style that will appeal to the younger generation, and fans of Pixar’s works.

Unfortunately the shallow gameplay is what sinks Mini Ninjas. It’s extremely repetitive and offers no original or unique gameplay. Had this been a downloadable game it might have garnered a higher score, but given the recent crop of downloadable games that might have been difficult. Younger gamers will most likely have a more enjoyable experience with Mini Ninjas, but hardcore gamers will want to stay away.