By Spencer . March 23, 2011 . 7:36pm
Instead of retelling the Naruto story again, Death by Cube developer Premium Agency drafted a new story for Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive. Ninja (wearing headbands with "zzz" on them) from the Hidden Dream Village are the main enemy. They found a way to draw out fake tailed-beasts, like the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, which you have to fight in this PSP game.
Perhaps inspired by the breakthrough success of Monster Hunter, Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive puts players in four man teams. The strange thing is you can’t play story mode with friends. Only free missions have multiplayer support and you have to run through the story to unlock extra characters. Yes, Sasuke and Team Hebi are playable. For the main story you’re stuck with pacifist computer controlled allies. Unless you call Choji to attack he stands on the sidelines during boss battles. Characters are grouped into three categories: attack, support, and healer. Naruto is an example of an attack character, he’s a close range damage dealer. Sai who summons ink tigers and birds is a support character. Ino and Sakura are healers and probably the most useful allies. The computer at least makes an attempt to drop a healing tag near your character if you’re injured.
Since you have to do most of the fighting we’ll dig into the fighting system or what I’d call "press circle". You can branch into a justu combo by pressing triangle in between attacks. This makes Naruto rush an enemy with a shadow clone or Shikamaru stab enemies with shadow tendrils. Each character has standalone justu attacks too and you learn more of those as you play through the game. Your strongest attack? Kakashi’s Kamui? Nah, it’s a quick time event where you punch an enemy back and forth between your teammates. As long as you keep passing the enemy like a hot potato the amount of damage increases. However, if you miss pressing a button on time or return the airborne enemy to the character that just passed it to you, the combo ends with Naruto absorbing the damage. There is a risk/reward relationship, but since racking up a long chain is fairly easy you end up relying on this move more than Naruto’s giant rasengan.
After a jutsu you have to stand still to recover chakra. Sure, it only takes a few seconds, but you can’t cancel out of your chakra restoring pose. So, if you’re not standing behind a rock your character just a sitting duck. Well, a sitting duck that glows blue. Before you start each mission you can equip ninja tools like explosive tags (read: mines) and kunai to throw. But, since enemies have to run directly over a tag and kunai deal so little damage tools, for the most part, are useless. It’s another odd balancing issue that makes players depend on two attack tactics regardless of the character – mashing circle and the team attack.
Outside of story scenes, almost all of Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is fighting with the occasional protect the character mission. Levels are designed like boxes with ninja that magically appear for you to fight. Occasionally, there are objects to break like crates or an annoying tree that blocks your path. That’s about all the exploration there is in Kizuna Drive. Once you pummel through a group of enemies a lighting wall (literally, a wall made out of lightning) disappears so you can move on to the next battle. Sometimes, the game will save you the time of walking and just teleport you to a new arena with fodder to fight. This pattern continues until you reach a boss. Win and you’ll earn status boosting scrolls… at random. Equipping scrolls is the main way to buff up your characters, but since the prizes are random you may end up with a stack of useless Null Confusion scrolls instead of attack or chakra boosters. Characters cannot share scrolls either. So, if you only have one Lv. 3 attack boosting scroll you have to unequip from say Hinata and equip on Yamato if you want to change characters. This added nuisance makes players spend longer in menus since there is only a small list of useful scrolls to share between a bunch of allies.
OK, so for the die-hard Naruto fans, maybe all of this can be forgiven if there are few good fights with the tailed beasts? After all, you get to pummel the (false) Shukaku. A word of warning – big boss battles with tailed beasts are sparse. You won’t even see many Jinchuuriki types in Kizuna Drive either. The majority of the game is alternating between the all-powerful circle button and team attacks in battles with brain dead ninja. I think Premium Agency was trying to tell us something with the headband the ninja from the Hidden Dream Village wear…