If you haven’t read about the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series before let me get you up to speed. The game takes place from the beginning of the series up until the mid point of the Chunnin exams. In story mode you can select your favorite ninja and play through a couple of pre determined fights. Twelve of the characters have their own stories and six of them are available from the start (Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Kakashi, Lee, and Shikamaru). If you play as Kaskahi your story mode will begin with training Team 7 and you will face up against Zabuza, just like in the series. For characters like Shikamaru and Neji you will play alternate stories. Neji ends up face to face with Sasuke while Shikamaru challenges Sakura. Each time you beat a story scroll you will unlock an additional story mode and new character to play with.
Whether you’re in story mode or playing with a friend Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is all about fighting. The game takes place on a 2D battlefield where each fight begins. By pressing X you can jump, square throws ninja tools and circle is used for attacking. If you add in directional buttons on top of circle you can alter what combos you do. Attacks never get more complicated than a three hit barrage and the most difficult skill to master is pressing down, down circle to do a technique like Zabuza’s water prison jutsu. Ultimate Ninja seems to be a bit on the simple side, but CyberConnect2 designed a system based on quick dodging. Everything in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja can be evaded. By jumping into the other part of the stage (pressing up+X or down+X) you can force your opponent to relocate into the background to continue fighting. A hail of senbon is quickly countered by throwing kunai. Then there is always the replacement jutsu. A well timed press of L2 or R2 activates the replacement jutsu where a player will not only avoid getting hit, but they will appear behind an opponent ready to counter attack. There is also an element of luck in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja. Items like special ninja tools, partner attacks and health recovery items appear by breaking items in the stage or as a gift by a helpful partner. While this is the core gameplay in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is probably most famous for its vivid special techniques.
Players can press triangle to charge their chakra and then press circle to initiate a special technique. If the blow isn’t blocked or countered with the replacement jutsu the screen shifts into an animated full motion jutsu scene. Techniques like Naruto’s frog summoning, Sasuke’s lion barrage and Kakashi’s lighting blade are broken up into different stages. To continue a technique and give more damage the player needs to input a random set of face buttons before time runs out. If the task is accomplished the special attack moves to the next frame of animation and keeps going until it is completed or the player makes a mistake. Meanwhile the opponent has to race to input a pattern of buttons to reduce the damage of the special technique. Watching the special attacks are a treat since they are so detailed. Ultimate Ninja manages to capture the intensity of Gaara’s sand burial and Lee’s primary lotus.
If you’ve seen the Japanese version all of this sounds pretty familiar, but there are some balance differences in Ultimate Ninja. Both Naruto and Sasuke had transformations when they used certain special techniques. Naruto’s level 3 technique changed him into Nine Tailed Naruto and Sasuke’s level 3 technique utilized the curse mark. Instead of having transformations for the two characters, Namco Bandai Games America decided to make them individual characters. One of the resulting changes is how Naruto’s level two technique is broken into two parts. The level two attack is the failed frog summoning while level three calls upon Jiraiya and Gamabunta. While it is adding in two secret characters is a nice addition, both of them are so strong that they tilt the balance of the game. Curse marked Sasuke gives extra damage and has a chakra attack that can easily drain a third of an opponent’s life bar. To balance his strength, curse marked Sasuke loses a little health every second. Nine Tailed Naruto also gives extra damage plus he has a speed bonus. On top of that his chakra attack can take about 50% of a health bar in a single hit. Since both characters start out with full chakra bars and can do a level three attack with a single press of the button they can make quick work of their opponents. Namco Bandai tried to tweak Nine Tailed Naruto’s power by removing his ability to throw items, but it doesn’t manage to weaken him much, if at all.
On the plus side the new characters add in extra replay value to the game. If you want to unlock the bonus characters you have to play through the game’s mission mode. In mission mode there are set conditions to win a battle. Some battles require players to win with a certain amount of life left over while others have more difficult requirements like winning a battle only using ninja tools. Beating missions increases your ninja rank and nets ryo. Ryo can be used in a virtual capsule machine where you can unlock action figures, sound bytes, ninja info cards and videos of the special attacks. At times the capsule machine will unlock special items like the scroll of instant body and partner attack items to use in battle. These items can be a godsend in some of the more difficult missions.
So far everything in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is geared towards fans, except there is no Japanese language track. Fans of the Japanese dub might be disappointed by this, but it doesn’t really affect the gameplay. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja remains an entertaining game and a must pick up for Naruto fans.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is the English version of Naruto: Narutimett Hero.
Namco Bandai games released this on 06.26.06
+ Pros: A fast paced 2D fighting game with easy to learn reversals that fans of the anime series will love.
– Cons: Fans that have been following the series since its debut in Japan will be disappointed to know that there are no Japanese voices and the tweaks to the game throw off the balance.
Overall: Although hardcore fans might nitpick about the lack of Japanese dialogue, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is a flashy 2D fighting game that will entertain fans of the series and newcomers alike.
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