[9 March 2011]
As I sit here writing this review, the Nintendo 3DS has already had an extremely successful launch in the Far East and is mere days away from a western release. No doubt cashier tills this side of the world will be ringing just as much, if not more so, than that of Japan and its neighbors.
It’s amazing to think that it’s been seven years, since the DS launched, 150 million consoles sold, three redesigns, and a plethora of genres later, the DS shares the same level of cultural significance as Apple’s Ipod.
Though it wasn’t always like this, anyone remember the early days of a barren release schedule, delays, and gimmick heavy and hand cramp inducing games? Most developers and publishers learned with time how best to maximize the console’s potential. So, even in its seventh year, DS developers can still throw up the likes of Okamiden. While on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who still have not learned and can only offer up the likes of Naruto Shippuden: Shinobi Rumble!!.
As I’ve stated in my review of Naruto Shippuden: Naruto vs Sasuke, the series is in a serious rut, and it seems that there is no interest in the betterment or for that matter doing the license any justice. There is only this insatiable thirst for reproducing.
With every new release, any goodwill towards the series evaporates, no matter how prettily they’ve dressed it up. Regardless of the genre (in this case some sort of cheap Smash Bros knock-off), Naruto mostly plain and simply sucks at this point.
The game provides the usual template of the fighting game: light and heavy attacks, jumping, teleporting, and special attacks via the lower screen. Meaning that the game is open for all, but the repetition and lack of differentiation between the roster of fighters saps any joy from the combat.
There are distractions (and that’s all they are) in the form of power-ups and items, though they have no meaningful effects in the broader scope of most fights—unless of course you are stupid enough to collect the poison item, which may have happened to me on three or four occasions. Due to their lack of effectiveness, collecting them is a pointless time sink intensified by the fact that they stay on the screen for far too long, which diminishes any sense of urgency to pick them up.
The A.I. is just atrocious, as your enemies will often let you beat them up without bothering with defending themselves. Once they’ve had enough, they teleport to safety and patiently await a further beating. Akin to a game of cat-and-mouse, a game which itself stopped being fun around infantry school. The lack of online multiplayer further hurts the A.I. even more, though there is a local wireless option. But good luck trying to find one or more friends to play with, since one must consider why anyone would bother with this with all the other great DS games out there.
While some reviewers have grumbled about special techniques being assigned to the lower screen, arguing that it is impractical to be taken away from the face buttons, there really is no issue here whatsoever—mainly because the pace of the action is too pedestrian, which is criminal when one considers its inspiration (Smash Bros.) and its license.
The real issue with the special moves is that the cut-away animated scene that initiates upon selection, an event that can occur a dozen or so more times during any given fight. Most fighting games have a build up to a special move, raising tension, causing the player to alter tactics, which can change the entire outcome of a fight if connected successfully.
But a special move should be just that – special, right?. When used over and over, it loses its, well, special-ness. Not only are specials far too easy to counter, but they also lack the punch and extravagance that one would associate with Naruto. They also interrupt the flow to the point of ruining the game. Imagine playing a game where you’re constantly interrupted with cut scenes, and you’ll get my point.
Fighters need to be speed-based, intense affairs encouraging lightning quick reactions and the ability to think fast. Adaptation should be the backbone of any beat-‘em-up. Here, though, the plodding pace, constant interruptions, repetition, and the complete absence of any form of challenge have basically torn that spine out and flushed it down the toilet.
It’s going to be very difficult for most DS games to stand out this far into the system’s life span, but this isn’t just another DS game. In truth, it’s just another Naruto game. Naruto is damaged goods, don’t bother with it. It enjoys being abused. Maybe the player doesn’t.