You know, at this point, I feel like my title here at Siliconera should be "Associate Editor – Anime Games". Though, I don't really have as much of a problem with them as I might make it sound. It's just that, as you all should know by now, anime games are hit and miss, mostly miss. Though that's not to say there aren't plenty of diamonds in the rough. Today, I'm reviewing Naruto: Ninja Destiny, the latest Naruto game for the Nintendo DS. Originally released in Japan as Naruto: Shinobi Retsuden, the Japanese release was…less than stellar. Takara Tomy attempted to rectify this in the US version by making several improvements to the game. Did their efforts pay off, or does another game fall victim to the anime game curse?
If there were one easy way to sum up Naruto: Ninja Destiny, it'd be "Clash of Ninja (or Gekitou Ninja Taisen, if you prefer) Lite". Basically, that's what it is, a stripped down version of Takara Tomy's Gamecube/Wii series. You choose from a cast of sixteen characters (fourteen if you don't count One-Tailed Naruto and Cursed Seal Level 2 Sasuke) and fight your way through a host of opponents. The meat of the game is in the Story Mode. Unlike the Japanese version, which featured a "filler" storyline, the US version takes it's storyline directly from the show, spanning from the Chunin Exams to the fight between Naruto and Orochimaru. Yep, retreading old ground, beating a dead horse, etcetera, etcetera. At this point, after playing through the exact same part of the Naruto story in so many different games, I'd prefer an original story, instead of one I know by heart at this point. While playing through Story Mode, I was mashing the Start button to skip the cutscenes that are shown between battles simply because I already knew what was going to happen. Note to anime game developers: we already know, okay? Naruto and Sasuke fight, Goku defeats Frieza, Ichigo saves Rukia, The Narrator was Tyler Durden, and Darth Vader is Luke's father (apologies to anyone I spoiled there).
Ninja Destiny's biggest selling point is arguably the fact that it's 3D. It's the first 3D fighter on the DS, and as such it doesn't have much to live up to. It basically sets the precedent for 3D fighters on the DS. And that being the case, I've got a suspicion that future 3D fighters on the system are going to be much better than this. But what's so wrong with Ninja Destiny? Well, let's take a look at what the game does right before we get into the negatives. The character selection is pretty impressive for a handheld fighter, even including three new characters not present in the Japanese version. Also, the game looks pretty nice, far nicer than the Japanese version did. Takara Tomy polished up the visuals for the US release to give them a more cel-shaded look. The game also runs at a very smooth, constant framerate, another thing that was fixed in the US version.
However, in spite of all the improvements made to the US version, there's still plenty that Ninja Destiny does wrong. First and foremost is that the game is still nothing more than a button masher, with no real strategy involved. And there's not even much in the way of attacks, either. Since sidestepping is handled with up and down on the D-Pad, you can't hold a direction and press an attack button to do different attacks as in Clash of Ninja. So you'll basically be using the same few combos over and over while attempting to fill up your chakra bar so you can pull off that big, match-ending super. This makes playing through the Story and Arcade modes a chore, as virtually every fight is the same. Which makes playing through these modes to unlock all the game's characters feel more like a chore than anything else. And believe me, thanks to the game's insane requirements for unlocking some of the characters, you'll be playing through the single player modes quite a bit.
Another huge problem that manages to suck away a lot of the potential fun to be had with Ninja Destiny is it's lack of modes. There's Story Mode, Versus Mode, Wireless Mode, and that's about it. I mean, at least if the Wireless Mode were single-card, it might get a pass. But as you have to know someone else that has a copy of Ninja Destiny to play multiplayer, you probably won't get much use out of this mode. So that basically leaves you with three choices: play through story mode (which has absolutely no point once you've unlocked everyone), fight a CPU opponent, or go through the Arcade mode. At the very least, a Survival or Time Attack mode would have been nice. I mean, there isn't even a Training mode. So if you want to practice, you'll have to do it against an opponent who fights back.
It's really difficult to recommend Naruto: Ninja Destiny to even the most hardcore of Naruto fans. It's a limited, shallow button masher that succeeds only as a cash-in to sell to the Naruto fans that'll buy anything with the license slapped on it. This game doesn't just fall victim to the "anime game curse", it practically defines it. Takara Tomy does deserve credit for addressing some of the most glaring flaws that the Japanese version had. However, in spite of all the things they fixed, they couldn't fix the game's biggest flaw: it's simply not fun.