Naruto Powerful Shippuden is easily the most distinctive of the Naruto games. The gameplay is familiar, but the presentation shows all of the characters in an entirely new light. It’s appropriate that it makes its home on the 3DS, a rather unconventional handheld. Still, the unorthodox art style is a gamble that pays off and combined with a delightful script that looks at the Naruto Shippuden story in a new way, results in a delightful adventure for anyone with the system.
If you’re at all familiar with Naruto Shippuden, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Naruto Powerful Shippuden. Naruto’s side covers the storyline from the manga and anime. Lee’s, on the other hand, is more about madcap mischief. Some events will seem familiar, but I felt it was more like watching a separate series where Lee was the star. You’ll see Naruto’s return to Konoha and the rise of Akatsuki again, as well as watch Lee and the rest of Team Guy grow stronger.
The main selling point of Naruto Powerful Shippuden however, is its humor. Lee’s story is especially hilarious. I’d like to avoid spoilers, but one early mission has Lee mistakenly thinking Tenten is in love with Guy, and concocting a conversation between the lovebirds in his head. Naruto’s story is filled with delightful moments as well. In both, characters frequently break the fourth wall and are well aware of their current, chibified depiction.
This is reflected in the character art as well. Every reaction is overblown, taking advantage of the oversized faces and utilized exaggerated reactions to every revelation. Naruto Powerful Shippuden does not hesitate to pull out the visual gags. My favorite is still one of the earliest ones, in which Guy, Lee and Negi all don ballerina leotards with white tutus and ducks on the front during a training exercise. The reason being, naturally, that they’re easy to move in and distract opponents. The fact that such jokes and imagery is recurring is even better.
Players can only choose from Naruto and Lee as they play, though members of Teams 8, 9, 10 and Guy , as well as Gaara, sow up as support characters that can be summoned during play with a button press or tap of the touch screen. Special skills are deployed in the same way, via tapping the appropriate icon when it’s equipped on the touch screen or holding down R and another button. I found it easier to go with button presses, as they’re uncomplicated and easy to remember, even if you aren’t looking at the combination on the lower screen.
I also liked the use of minor RPG elements. Both Naruto and Lee earn experience from battles, and the amount earned can be increased by picking certain goals and difficulty for each mission (level) and meeting them. As characters grow, players can choose which stats to improve. Most importantly, you aren’t locked into any decisions you make. If you think you need more chakra, but chose to invest in another area, you can refund the points and spend them again however you wish. It’s a great system.
Plus, it offers a bit of replay value. As I mentioned, you can set conditions for yourself before each match to increase the challenge. There are extra difficulty levels as well. Not to mention there’s a Survival Boss Battle Mode once the game has been beaten. It’s pretty self explanatory, it just lets people fight characters like Orochimaru, Kisame and Pain one after the other while trying to stay alive.
The only downside is, Naruto Powerful Shippuden really is a button-masher. I found it best to take breaks every 15 or 20 minutes, so I could rest my fingers and not be continually overworking my 3DS. That means it also get a little repetitive, since most of the missions that aren’t boss fighters fall into bash-until-everything-enemy-is-knocked-out. The boss fights, however, are a great change of pace and actually require thought since they involve wearing out opponents’ chakra so they’ll be tired out, unable to move and take more damage than normal.
Still, I’d say that’s far outweighed by the fact that this is the first time I’ve ever played a Naruto game that my friends wanted to also try. These are people who aren’t interested in anime, saw me laughing at the game, watched my playing for a bit and decided they had to either try or download the demo from the 3DS eShop for themselves. I’d say that’s pretty powerful and a testament to the playability of Naruto Powerful Shippuden.
I am really pleased with Naruto Powerful Shippuden. So much so that I’d say it’s the first Naruto game I’d actively recommend to friends who aren’t interested in the series, or even in anime in general. It’s a happy game that you can play in extended sessions or small bursts and I will never tire of these characters exaggerated statures and adorable proportions. It’s is definitely the funniest 3DS game I’ve ever played.
Food for Thought
1. I used to think Lee looked weird, but this game has convinced me he’s the best character ever.
2. Despite the silliness, Naruto’s story mode actually works as an abridged guide to the early Shippuden storyline.
3. The 3D is so-so. It does make those awesome caricatures pop, but it isn’t required.
4. You can scan QR codes to unlock things in the game, like extra support characters, but I wasn’t able to find any of them yet.