[23 January 2007]
It takes a brave publisher to release a GameCube title this late in its lifecycle, especially one that’s an exclusive. I suspect that Tomy is hoping that we enjoy Naruto: Clash Of Ninja 2 on our Wiis so we eagerly snap up any sequels. But just as the anime series of Naruto garners further recognition in the United States, the digital equivalents are doing their bit to further broaden the appeal of the hit manga. Following the dismal Naruto: Ninja Council 2 on the Game Boy Advance, I was not in the slightest bit expecting much from Naruto: Clash Of Ninja 2. But much to my surprise and delight, Clash Of Ninja 2 is a solid, enjoyable beat-em-up for gamers who just want to kick back and beat the crap out of their mates.
Just like the cartoon series, the Naruto games are instantly accessible and fast paced, with a great tongue-in-cheek emphasis on fun and high-tempo craziness. Naruto himself is hyperactive to say the least, somewhat naïve and simple, yet endearingly dogmatic, as no challenge is too big or tough. Sure, it’s in a way similar to Milhouse from The Simpsons (in that they both seem high on sugar)—still, it’s somewhat refreshing to have a main character that doesn’t conform to gaming stereotypes of what male leads should be.
Naruto is joined by 22 other fighters from the anime series, each as eccentric and extravagant as the one before. One particular standout includes Kankuro, a cat suit wearing ninja whose main form of offence is a zombie marionette that rips off its own limbs to use as a weapon against you. Seriously, I couldn’t make this up.
The roster of fighters themselves have been recreated using a gorgeous cel shaded style that parallels the look of the cartoon, but to complement them is some of the most artistically unique stages seen in any 3D fighter. The washed out, pastel colours make you feel like you’re playing in a water painting—at times I wished I could just break free of the confines of the arenas and just explore the rich and lush vistas. The faithfulness of the style sticks close to the license, while still packing in plenty of modes to keep gamers happy.
The wealth of options offered is staggering. 14 game modes are available encompassing single player, story mode, and the excellent multiplayer. In many ways it feels like a tribute to the fans of the series, as developer 8ing fit everything and the kitchen sink into the game to ensure that there’s always something to do or another achievement to unlock. Art galleries, character profiles, concept art, voice work samples…if you can think of it, 8ing has included it.
Admittedly, the single player mode does become repetitive. The main problem is that the accessibility of the game comes at the price of depth. The B button is your main attack, while Y acts as a grapple and X as a trigger for a devastating super combo, a spectacle in its own right and one that validates playing with every character just to witness each one’s outrageous finisher.
The ability to warp behind your opponents or evade their assaults is determined by how much energy you have stored in the special move bar. You can either evade or launch a super combo when both energy bars are full. Strategically this does add variety, as you decide between either a super move or warping. The latter is preferable, as you can stun your opponents and launch them flying into the air with a stiff kick, not to mention that it makes you feel more, well, ninja like. Undoubtedly, it’s a cool feature and one that actually turns out to be extremely beneficial during some tougher battles, where warping, ducking, blocking and a patient approach takes precedent over an all out assault.
The lack of depth is unlikely to please the hardcore beat-em-up fan that imports his/her rare joysticks from Japan to get the most out his/her fighters. The draw, though, is the ease of use and ability for all to enjoy—in this respect, the multiplayer, with its frantic arcade action, shines through. Be it in the four-player simultaneous brawls, one player vs. three, two vs. two, two player co-op versus team and team battles, there’s something that even the most cynical critic can find amusing. It has a great party feel to it, and while senseless button mashing is the order of the day, being bogged down by simulation isn’t Clash of Ninja‘s concern; having fun is.
Each fighter has a vast array of combos at their disposal offering a different fighting style. Some are better at counter attacking moves such as Rock Lee, while personally I preferred Sasuke (particularly during survival mode), as his combos are quicker and pack a far greater punch. Occasionally you get the feeling that many of the attacks are more in favour of the spectacle rather than technique, but I’ve grown weary of trying to pull off 7 or 8 button presses just to do a dragon punch. Basically, if you want to play a beat-em-up but don’t want to worry about learning a new language as some brawlers demand, then this is for you.
Undeniably, Naruto: Clash Of Ninja 2 is shallow; the improvements made in the 3rd and 4th editions of the series (only available in Japan) have apparently gone some way toward rectifying this. But whether you’re a Gamecube owner determined to squeeze every last drop of life from the console, or an early Wii adapter, this’ll do the job just fine for now. Naruto fans can not deny the care and attention lavished on the presentation, which perfectly captures the feel of the cartoon and does the series justice. As a gamer, whether you buy this or not is dependent on your need for fighters to be encyclopedias on jujitsu, or just simple, light hearted, popcorn fun.