This is the fourth Naruto game that I’ve reviewed for PopMatters and probably the four millionth Naruto game overall.
By no stretch of the imagination am I a fan, and in this instance, that is somewhat of a blessing. As the universe of Naruto has expanded through more and more media forms, it has become an impossibility for a novice such as myself to try and comprehend most of the back story of the series. This is something not lost on the developers, as exemplified by the paper thin-plot, perfect for newbies or people who simply can’t be bothered to learn all of the series’s ins and outs.
For the few still tickled by the prospect of a new Naruto title, the real burning question is: what genre will it fall under? A 2D action-platformer is an obvious fit for the series, as the developers can show off the fast paced brawling that has won so many fans over.
With an emphasis on close quarters combat, the option of throwing shuriken to fend off long distance enemies and the blistering speed that Naruto moves and jumps at, with the only real complexities coming in the form of special techniques the motif here is clearly brawn over brain.
Naruto is not alone on his adventure to . . . do whatever—it is what he is meant to be doing, saving the world or a girl . . . I guess. Several of his equally eccentric buddies will accompany him in this quest, each of which is mildly distinct from one another. However, each has his or her own special techniques, some will allow hidden paths to be opened up, while still others will make tricky jumps less tricky, and there are even those whose special attacks can engulf the entire screen. One is controlled at a time, with the option to switch out characters on the fly.
The levels are often broken up in a simple ‘’get from point A to point B ASAP’’ kind of style, while others require some further exploration, serving as a nice change of pace, alongside boss battles that are generously sprinkled in. These fights tend to be somewhat of a let down, however, as glaring AI exploits make these “more difficult” opponents more push overs than anything else.
A greater annoyance is running along while oblivious to the threat in front you (because you can’t see it) and, bang!, You get smacked in the face and fall what feels like 300ft, thankfully not in to some bottomless pit, but instead having to re-trace your steps through what seems like endlessly repeated backgrounds. Often you can then reach your destination, only to be knocked over once again as enemies are reset.
Another hindrance is that the levels are quite large and can last longer than is desirable. On a console, this is less of a problem, but on a handheld, battery life is of concern.
Toss in the fact that there is very little sign-posting, and you can find yourself disoriented by not just the multiple paths in front of you but the aforementioned repeated level design. Exploration would be less of a hassle it for weren’t for re-spawning enemies, but, alas, these make it difficult to do the one thing that you’re almost forced into.
There are pluses in the form of unlock able content, but the overall problem is a general sense of apathy engendered through gameplay, not just by the player, but by the developers as well.
It’s not as if this is the first game in the series or the first 2-D Action title either, and by now, the series should offer something to excite the player and stand out from other such titles, but there isn’t. Competency seems to be the mission statement, rather than excellence. I understand that this game is aimed at the die-hard fan, but surely even they must be getting bored by now?
If you’re given or have bought this game, you’ll play it because you feel obliged to, however, the series is stuck in a directionless rut, in which quantity over quality is no doubt holding it back. No license if bulletproof as once was the case, and Tomy would do well to remember that.