January 20, 2009
Who doesn't love a bit of anime? When you get right down to it, anime is the brash, in-your-face cousin of regular cartoons and can often push the envelope in terms of content. There seems to be a peculiar sub-species of the genre that involves ridiculously over the top fight sequences and excessively long plotlines; Dragonball Z may be the most famous example, but Naruto is not that far behind. With an ardent army of admirers of both the animated series and now the game after the fairly successful debut on the 360, it would be a huge disappointment if this game didn’t do the series justice and build on the solid foundations laid down by its predecessor.
Ubisoft did a good job with Rise of a Ninja, and seemed to have successfully fused one-on-one fighting and sandbox gameplay to some extent. There were a few quibbles with glitches during the game though, most notably tied to the downloadable content causing the game to freeze, and achievements being distinctly hard to unlock. Here then, is a chance to iron out all of those issues and create a lush game world for people to run around in. Oh, did I mention you get to run around doing cool ninja stuff? No? Well it's a pretty important aspect as we all know ninjas are "hella cool."
First things first, the game looks amazing and is a beautifully accurate rendition of the TV show; all of the characters look and sound just like they should do and there is no hint of slowdown during the fights. Special moves are all accompanied by over the top effects and giant Japanese characters popping up on screen. The game world is nice to look at too and you are free to roam through the village and surrounding areas, though you’ll need certain characters to reach every nook and cranny. A major plus too is the inclusion of the original Japanese voice actors which make everything sound all the more authentic. Right from the off, this is a game that looks and sounds the part.
The story is an entertaining one but panders far too much to followers of the series for my liking; as I have never seen much of the series I am not really sure if the following will be spoilers or not, so be warned. The game starts with the demise of the Third Hokage, the Leaf Village's Ninja leader, at the hands of the villainous Orochimaru. It is an impressive set piece and one that sets up the story of Naruto’s rise to prominence and his friend Sasuke’s quest for power. Throw in any number of returning villains and a bunch of helpful allies and there is plenty going on. The problem is in what you do not see, as there is so much past history referenced that if you haven’t played the first game or watched the show then you will struggle to understand what is going on. Each character has their own backstory and motivations but very little of that is touched on here directly. The story is a gripping one and you’ll genuinely like all of the people you meet (pervy ninjas FTW) but it just feels like this is primarily a game for fans and the rest of us have to keep up the best we can.
The most important aspect is the fighting, as without a solid move set and some interesting characters the whole thing is destined to fall flat on its face. Thankfully Naruto breezes through this challenge with ease, as all of the characters have their own distinctive style and a range of interesting moves to accompany it. All of the available combos can be seen be pressing "Start" and picking them up is easy enough thanks to the helpful Dojo option in the main menu. Putting in a bit of training is advisable too as some of the tougher foes certainly don’t hold back. Also thrown into the mix are Jutsu moves; successful attacks and blocks during combat can build up your Jutsu meter and then you can unleash impressive and damaging manoeuvres using the left trigger and thumbsticks. From the ever impressive Sexy Jutsu right up to some killer finishers they are all well worth a watch, though a few do seem to include some of those dreaded button pressing sequences of doom in order to achieve success. Overall though, you’ll enjoy yourself immensely and with nine characters to mess with throughout the story mode and a whopping thirty available in regular sparring and multiplayer modes, there is plenty of variety and moves to master.
The greatest asset of the fighting system is its simplicity and the flexibility on offer. Most attacks are a combination of the X and Y buttons, with another layer of attacks while you are in the air; you can also block and use the triggers for various moves. It sounds straightforward but things can get quite tactical once you add in substitution techniques, which let you dodge an attack and take your opponent by surprise. Mastering this move is more useful than any other as it can open up even the toughest foes. Considering the ease with which you can pick up and play, the game is a real joy to behold, and it was fairly easy for me to get sucked into learning as many moves as I could, often leading me to actively seeking out fights just so I could try out the next combo I’d mastered. The game also let’s you take on foes with your buddies covering your back that you can tag in and out to take down the toughest opponents. I doubt it will ever topple Street Fighter, Soul Caliber and the like in the eyes of most purists but for someone like me, who had never really warmed to fighting games, it was the perfect introduction.
In between fights you’ll be able to explore the vast Naruto world and wage through a variety of tasks in order to progress the story or acquire some cash and friendship points to boost your statistics. Naruto has the ability to dash up certain walls and walk on water, plus most of his comrades bring their own unique skills to the party so that you can access new areas. Exploring is fun and the environment is large and engaging, however, it is this part of the game that has the most issues. The main problem comes in the form of the mission and quests on offer; pretty much all of them involve getting to a certain point, defeating a certain foe or collecting certain items and that's pretty much it. The variety is almost non-existent and having to run around finding a set number of items for the umpteenth time soon starts to wear thin.
The multiplayer options themselves are fairly straightforward; offering a tournament mode that you can take on, solo or with a tag partner. Plus you can have four players going at it too if you so wish, with each of them tagging in and out to achieve dominance. Going online though, things tend to get a bit more complicated and it can be a rude awakening for newcomers. The problem is that veterans of the first game have a distinct advantage as many of the moves of the original cross over into the sequel. In order to rank up, and get the achievements for doing so, you first have to get through two qualifying rounds just to reach the tournament stage. Then any victories you get after that point will earn you ranking points which go towards progressing up the ranks. Still with me? It is a confusing and quite bizarre system and one that doesn’t really help newcomers as just getting through two fights can be arduous enough for anyone who does not play fighting games on a regular basis ... Of course it could just be that I suck. That aside though everything is lag free and runs beautifully.
Most of the achievements on offer can be acquired by playing through the story and doing the various quests that become available; throw in a number of obligatory collection tasks and you shouldn’t struggle too much. The harder achievements are mostly to do with fighting as you must finish off foes with different techniques or without taking a hit; not an easy task at the best of times. The online aspect of the game is where people might struggle though as you’ll actually require some skill to get the necessary ranks, with there being no easy way to boost yourself to victory it may well be some time before you get them all done. The fact that they only account for a small fraction of the points means it's not so much of a big a deal.
This is a game I wasn’t expecting to like as I have never seen the animated series before or even enjoyed fighting games that much. Luckily this game fuses a solid storyline with some excellent and fairly straightforward fighting to provide plenty of entertainment. The lack of variety in the quests is a major issue and does make the game drag in places and the online set up is not very user friendly for newcomers. That aside though this game will provide plenty of hours of entertainment, however, my only suggestion would have been to add in some kind of back-story for each character for non-fans but that is a minor quibble at best. Pick this up and you are in for a treat.
Great voice work that gets bonus points for including the original Japanese dub (we all know that’s better) and the soundtrack makes things suitably dramatic when it needs to.
I love anime visuals and this game is all about them; the characters are vividly portrayed and look superb. The action is just like watching the show, even when online, and that is a major plus in anyone’s book.
A lot of fun and the fighting is easy to pick up yet surprisingly deep, you will certainly need to be at your best to get anywhere online though. The adventuring is fresh at first but one too many collection tasks mean that things soon get a bit dull.
A superb recreation of the series and one that can provide plenty of fun even for non-fans. My only concern would be the fact it is not too accessible in terms of the storyline.
A solid list that rewards story progression and mini-game completion, but it borrows far too heavily from the previous title to be truly original. The online tasks are pretty challenging but thankfully the hardest achievement is for zero points – not worth anything in particular except a great sense of accomplishment.
Playing this game was a pleasant surprise, especially due to the fact I’d never followed the series or really enjoyed fighting games as a whole. The missions may start to get repetitive after a while but the story more than makes up for it and the online modes can keep you occupied long after you’ve finished the game. It’s mainly for fans but give it a go and you may be shocked at how much fun you have.