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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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A screenshot from Io Interactive's Mini Ninjas. (Io Interactive)
A screenshot from Io Interactive's Mini Ninjas. (Io Interactive)

The perfect gateway game? Add to ...

Have a game-loving kid who's at that tricky age of being old enough to crave something more from their interactive entertainment than simple Spongebob and Dora adventures but is still years away from the mature pleasures of a game like Resident Evil 5?

Then you may want to investigate Io Interactive's Mini Ninjas. It's an action/adventure game about a group of heroes who wield weapons like katanas and shuriken and employ advanced stealth attacks and magical abilities. It also has a strong narrative about six unlikely heroes struggling against a despot who controls an unstoppable army of dark samurai.

It might sound like something suitable only for teens and up-and, indeed, it's meaty enough that older gamers will likely get almost as much out of it as younger players-but everything has been pleasantly kid-ified.

Take our cast of misfit ninja heroes. They might wield the same sort of weapons seen in decidedly adult games like Ninja Gaiden, and they do indeed spend much of their time in battle, but they're mini, which, you know, makes them kind of cute.

More importantly, they don't actually kill anyone. The evil samurai they go up against are in fact forest creatures that have been transformed into human-like goons. Defeat them in battle (there isn't any blood or gore when you strike them) and they turn back into bunnies, foxes, and bears and run away.

Moving beyond fighting, the game is filled with the sort of activities that grown-up gamers do all the time. They've just been simplified a bit to make them easier for kids to digest.

There are, for example, loads of rewarding side activities. You can run around the capacious world looking for herbs, flowers, and mushrooms growing in the wild and then use them in recipes to create useful items (similar to what we adults could do in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). Or you can use magic to send your ninja's essence into a forest creature-like a bear-and then attack enemies using its superior strength (which reminded me a bit of Geist, only without the bone-chilling horror).

What's more, players have a healthy stock of moves to help them explore their environments, including running along cliff faces, shimmying over ledges, and the ability to move stealthily through tall grass. They can even pull off their oversized hats and use them as boats to go sailing down streams.

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What I'm trying to do here is illustrate how Mini Ninjas introduces kids to more grown-up gaming concepts without putting them at risk of encountering content unbefitting their malleable little minds. It's like cracking open a door to give kids a peak at a world of games that offer richer, more engrossing experiences.

The tricky for parents, of course, is making sure their kids don't throw the door open and begin playing Teen- and Mature-rated fare. But I think Mini Ninjas is satisfying enough that they may not even feel the urge.

Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha

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