It seems like anime is everywhere these days. From what once was a niche market for a small group of geeks within geeks, it’s exploded in popularity and you can see its influence in every game store when you browse. And one of the most popular is Masashi Kishimoto’s creation, Naruto. The series has become a juggernaut, with anime, manga, movies and games. And here’s the latest handheld game in the franchise. Is it any good? Well…
The game, released by Tomy and Atlus, is set during the Naruto Shippuden period of the series (where all the main characters are older, stronger, and maybe a bit wiser). A bit of backstory for the game is about to unfold, so you may want a chair.
Naruto follows the life and times of young ninja Naruto, an ostracized kid who has a demonic nine-tailed fox sealed within him. While it gives him incredible powers, it also left him the object of hate from his home village. As the series progressed, he fought many epic battles and got even better at using his powers, and one of the core parts of the series was his bond with his rival/friend Sasuke. Near the end of the original series (no, I’m not counting the filler arc), Sasuke’s obsession with revenge on his older brother for murder of the entire family leads him to betray his friends and seek out Orochimaru (one of the big villains in this series) to get stronger. Orochimaru wants Sasuke as a replacement body for himself. Naruto and Sasuke fought, and our hero lost. Determined, he went on a training journey for three years. That’s where Shippuden is set.
Set immediately after the “Gaara Rescue Arc”, Naruto and his friend/love interest Sakura find that instead of their usual team leader Kakashi, they now have two new members: the capable leader, Yamato, and emotionless Sai. With their mission being to locate Orochimaru and maybe find Sasuke, this game covers that entire arc.
That, right there, is my major problem with this game. Most Naruto games either cover several story arcs of the series, or make an original story. This one section of the story is not enough to feel satisfying. It’s like watching a TV show for a few episodes, and then they stop and you have to wait until next year for another few episodes.
Before I go into the game itself, I feel compelled to say that when pressing start at the file select screen starts the file erase process, it’s very stupid. I accidentally deleted my save when I was in a hurry to start the game and pick where I left off and had to start from scratch. Not fun.
The game is a basic 2D action-platformer. You pick your team (usually with Naruto as your first choice), one support member, and just run around an environment trying to find the exit. There are enemies everywhere, as well as scrolls that will help unlock more characters. You can attack, teleport behind foes, throw weapons like shuriken and kunai, and use the touch screen for super moves. Super moves and teleporting uses up chakra, and you can also touch the icons of your allies to do a combo special move, as well as activate your support character’s ability.
Unfortunately, the game is not as good as it could be. It’s not bad, but it’s just average. And when you get to the boss battles, it’s frustrating. Most of these are just a character like yours who will run around the screen, stop in one spot to do his special moves, you attack him, he goes down, gets back up, beats you up, and repeat. It often feels like winning is more about luck than actual skill. And when you get to the boss fights that feature more than one boss, it’s just annoying as hell.
The graphics are great, the sprites looking like 2D game versions of everyone should. The cut-scenes are mostly head pictures with text on the bottom screen while the top shows the sprites moving around. Sadly, the music feels so generic, which sucks given how awesome the serie’s soundtrack is.
In the end, fans of Naruto will probably add this to the collection. But it’s just average for everyone else who isn’t a fan. I’m a fan, but still would have liked a better story to make me want to keep playing. I’ll probably keep playing this, but not as often as other platformers I own for the DS.