I finished Mini-Ninjas over the weekend.  I really enjoyed the game, especially the variety of characters that it provided.  The drop-in mechanics reminded me of Lego Star Wars, only with a lot more personality.

I also started Darksiders this week.  In the game, you play War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  For an unknown reason, War is summoned to the earth too early (the seventh seal had not yet been broken),  and his presence ignites a war between the armies of Heaven and Hell.  Now War must find out how and why he was summoned, and fix the mess.

For the most part, the gameplay reminds me of God of War, with a few improvements to the controls.  The game has an opponent locking function very similar to the auto-aim found in Megaman Legend.  I dig War’s look, and the fact that he isn’t as ridiculously boastful as Kratos.  War seems genuinely confused with his situation, and his quiet bad-assness is refreshing.

The best part about the game, though, is the subtle integration of the tutorial into the game.  Right before War’s first major boss fight, he meets a giant stone gatekeeper blocking a gate that he wishes to pass through.  The gatekeeper wants to help, and informs War that he can only help after a group of monsters “the shadow world” are destroyed.

When you enter the temples to destroy these beasts, you play a small mini game similar to the extra timed trials found in God of War.  Each trial demands that you defeat the monsters in a different way, demonstrating the use of another of War’s abilities.  This interesting approach gives the player the opportunity to try out new abilities in a controlled environment without going through the annoying process of a formalized tutorial.

Every game, especially educational games, should take this approach for tutorials.  The more you can do to help the player to forget that he is learning, the better.  If you are a designer, you should play this game and take notes.