Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX 2’s story mode briefly overlaps with Eighting’s previous game. The first fight is a battle between Gaara and Deidara. By the eighth fight Sakura takes on Sasori and in the 24th mission Yamato faces Orochimaru. The twenty eight story battles in Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX 2 brings players past the anime series right into a dual between time skip Naruto and Sasuke. Completing the story mode takes less than an hour, but Sasuke is the only reward you unlock. If you want to play as Asuma, Tsunade, Hinata and the two pre time skip characters you have to grind through a set number of fights. It's a grueling chore designed to force gamers to spend more time with Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX 2. I miss the intuitive unlocking system Tomy introduced in Naruto Shippuden Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX, but compared to the Gamecube games EX2 isn’t that bad.
Speaking of the Gamecube games, Eighting didn’t make any radical changes in Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX 2. If you've played any of previous entries you know what to expect: small arenas, easy commands and one button specials. Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX 2 doesn't attempt to revolutionize the fighting system, but it has a few tweaks. In the last game, Eighting adjusted the environment by introducing crates to hide behind. The pots are back, but if you see one covered in explosive tags watch out. If you try and smash the jug, it will explode and damage any nearby ninja. You can take advantage of an exploding object by purposely destroying it from a distance or by smashing it up close while an opponent is ducking behind it. There are a handful of other hazards in the battle arena like chakra draining circles and the especially dangerous hidden tar blotches that makes a character freeze into place. While you’re waiting for Hinata to jump out of the ooze another player can slam her with an ouigi.
The other major tweak lets players use universal gestures for instant chakra recovery and temporary attack power boosts. If you hold the Z and C buttons on the nunchuck and swiftly wave the Wii remote to make an inverted C (left, down, left) you can instantly recover a portion of your chakra gauge. While this sounds useful, you are completely vulnerable when you act out the motions. It’s a tradeoff, but the attack boost is useful technique to use if you manage to knock all your opponents down. Naruto, Sasuke and a few other characters have an additional zig-zag movement (left, down, right) that unleashes their inner powers such as the Nine-Tails and Sharingan respectively. One other change Eighting made is most secondary ougis (i.e. ougis without Wii remote movements) only take up 75% of the chakra bar, which makes it easier to do Tenten’s aerial weapon assault and Itachi’s automatic combo.
Most people thinking about picking Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX 2 up is doing it for the characters. Naruto (now has the Odama Rasengan), Lee, Neji and Gaara play the same as they did in the past game so I’m leaving impressions of them out. Here are some brief impressions of the new characters:
Sai throws ink lions instead of kunai, but that isn’t his most useful skill. When you hold back and press A, he teleports behind an enemy. After sneaking behind another player you can press down + A to release an ink snake that binds the opponent for a second. If you can freeze your opponent you’re in the perfect position to press X and unleash a barrage of ink beasts.
Yamato’s wood jutsus give him lots of range. If you press forward + A he unleashes a block of solid wood from his hand, down + A makes a wood shockwave explode from the ground. Like Sai, Yamato can bind enemies by pressing the A button, but his wood binding skill is slightly quicker. Yamato is also great during four player fights because his down + X super makes a circle of wood squares burst around him, a great move to do when multiple enemies close in.
Kakashi is the same as ever, with one exception the mangekyou sharingan jutsu.
Shikamaru replaces Sakura as the best ranged character. He throws kunai with the A button, but a single press shoots two of them. One propels forward, the other flies at a 45 degree angle upwards. He can also throw explosive kunai by jumping in the air and pressing the A button. However, if you want to unleash Shikamaru’s Kage Mei jutsu (a shadow binding attack that ends with a bunch of shadow stabs) you need to be close enough kick an opponent. I prefer to use Shikamaru’s secondary ougi, which is a mid-air explosive kunai assault.
Sasuke can do hand to hand attacks with the B button and sword swipes with the A button. He cannot throw projectiles while on the ground, but Sasuke can jump in the air and throw a three pronged fire burst. The only ranged attack Sasuke has is the same fireball attack from the previous games, which is much smaller than Itachi’s. Since Sasuke tends to use his sword he feels a bit slower than the younger Sasuke. There are a few frames of animation where he is vulnerable while he unsheathes the blade. Also he does not have the Chidori Nagashi as a second special. Instead he has a combo where he attacks his opponent with a dark flash of the sword and finishes with a chidori.
I haven’t mentioned the other “new” characters yet because they aren’t entirely new. Jiraiya is exactly the same as he is in the Gamecube games with the addition of jutsu motions from Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution. Hinata appears in a post time skip costume, but her moves are nearly identical to her pre-time skip self. Kiba is the same way and their change feels more cosmetic than anything else. On the plus side Eighting used the four player fighting fix introduced in Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution for fluid multiplayer matches. At least the Naruto Shippuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen series is back on track to being a good party fighting game with plenty of two-tiered stages.