Frantic ninja fighting in the fantastic world of Naruto.
The young ninja of the hidden leaf village face many challenges in their training. Naruto and his friends tackle many dangers on their Ninja Academy quests as they battle the best of the best. Each combatant will sooner or later have to face what exactly it is that separates the winners from the losers.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is a lush cartoon-style fighting game set in the world of Naruto – the highly successful Japanese manga and anime. This is the first game in the Ultimate Ninja series for the PlayStation 2, and the events portrayed in this game is best considered a side-story. It revisits familiar locations and encompasses the same characters from the mainline story, giving fans some new plots to ponder while not spoiling anything for people who hasn’t yet seen the cartoon or read the comics.
This is an over-the-top fighting game where you can perform various attacks, string together combos, use shurikens and other projectile weapons, collect power-ups and unleash devastating Secret Techniques. This is a so-called 2D/3D game, meaning that your character can only move in two dimensions even though the characters and stages are rendered in 3D. Battles are fought one-on-one, but you’ll see NPC helpers appear now and then who’ll give you power-ups like extra weapons or health recovery items if you reach them in time.
So the basic gameplay is about using wits, timing, weapons and Secret Techniques to overcome your opponent. Successfully landing a Secret Technique on your opponent often turns the tide of the battle simply because they cause so much damage. Thus, learning how to use your character’s abilities and exploit your opponents openings is key for victory.
Secret Techniques are a central concept in the game. Once you hit your opponent with such an attack the game shifts to a cinematic cutscene mode where both you and your opponent are prompted to press a sequence of buttons. Depending on who manages to clear the button sequence the fastest, the outcome of the attack varies – either your opponent blocks some of the damage, or your attack cause some extra damage. This means that whoever is better at clearing button sequences will always have the upper hand as far as Secret Techniques go.
True to the original Naruto stories, chakra energy plays a key role in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja. Your current chakra level is represented by a gauge. You can recharge your chakra at any time, but doing so will leave you defenseless for the duration of the charge. There are three levels of charge as indicated by special chakra balls along the gauge. Avoiding an enemy attack (that otherwise would have hit) will deplete an entire chakra ball worth of charge. Each character has three different Secret Techniques requiring one, two or three chakra balls, each more powerful than the last. If you take a nasty knockdown blow, you lose chakra, and this is also true for being knocked against a wall. Fighting is thus a careful management of chakra. In order to maximize your character’s potential, you must learn how to work with your chakra flow, and also take the right opportunities to exploit your opponent’s chakra level.
The controls are easy to learn, and there are lots of different moves and attacks that you can do with just some simple button presses. You can do jumps, double jumps, rushes, dashes, running up walls, run on water, recovery rolls, throws and of course all kinds of attacks. There are move lists displaying all the special commands that you can input to perform various attack strings. Also, each character has its own quirks, so there is quite a lot to explore and the variation is great.
You can choose to play any of the main characters known from the mainline story. When the game begins there are six characters to choose from, and there’s eight more that can be unlocked for a total of 14 playable characters. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura are, of course, the most iconic characters but the roster also includes less prominent characters such as Zubasa and Haku. Twelve of these characters have their own story campaigns called Scenarios, and each Scenario has six missions. The playable characters in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja are as follows;
Curse Marked Sasuke
Nine Tailed Naruto
Other game modes apart from the Scenarios include Free Battle, Practice, Special Missions and Naruto’s House which essentially is an extensive collection of unlockable extra materials such as music, voice samples, picture galleries, Secret Technique demonstrations and game character figurines. The unlockable items are bought from a capsule machine using money that you have earned from your battles, and there is a ton of stuff to unlock.
Free Battle allows you to play as any available character, either against the CPU or a human opponent. Here you can adjust various battle rules such as toggling Support Characters and Secret Techniques on and off, adjusting the time limit and handicap balance.
Practice mode lets you play against a dummy character, which is ideal for studying combos, attacks and move lists. Special Missions mode offers more than 50 bonus missions, which all have some special victory condition. There are some really demanding challenges there, and the rewards you’ll earn will buy you capsules.
There are twelve stages in the game. Some of the environments that you’ll be fighting in are; rooftops, battle arenas, city streets, forests and a harbor. Some stages are actually divided into two different areas, allowing the battle to dynamically traverse from one location to another. Most stages also have unique features such as bottomless pits and other hazards. This really adds excitement, variation and another layer of tactics to any given battle. Needless to say, the fights in this game have a huge entertainment value.
The best part about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is that it stays true to the source material as far as style, characters and locations are concerned. As such it delivers heaps of fan service, and quickly finds its way to the heart of fans. The fighting is extremely fast paced and fun to play. There are special moves that seem a little overpowered, so the character balance may not hold water for high level competitive play. Still, for casual gaming this game is a huge bag of fun all around with countless hours of ninja fighting.
The graphics are absolutely something out of the ordinary. It mimics the comic book style with a nice innovative graphical “cel-shading” effect. The character animation is a joy to watch, and it’s a true novelty to see the famous Naruto characters and locations rendered in interactive 3D like this. The visuals are very colorful and vivid and it captures the Naruto anime style beautifully. The level of detail in the backgrounds is also astonishing – there’s quite a lot of eye candy and it all looks great. Sure, the character models are a little chunky, but the game looks and runs beautifully.
The soundtrack is absolutely a big part of the game. It is heavily inspired by ancient Japanese culture but still maintains a youthful spark with fast riffs and many catchy melodies. The original music from the anime is not featured in the game, but that isn’t an issue because the music rocks as it is. It really sounds just like a Naruto soundtrack should – part serious and part humorous.
Purist fans will be pleased to see that the game has both Japanese and English voice acting options, all done by the original respective crews. Needless to say, the game is filled with lots of fighting sound effects – smacks, pows and booms. These sounds are muffled, obviously low bit rate compression audio files. But other than that, the game sounds great.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja delivers fully on its promise. Exploring the vivid and fantastic ninja world of Naruto is as fun as ever in this game. There’s lots of fan service going on with all the extra unlockable materials, and there are tons of battles to fight. The game has a healthy dose of variation and is in many ways a solid game. Fans of the original Naruto series have all the reasons to play this game through. Even newcomers to the franchise are sure to find something to like about this game, even if it isn’t the deepest or most refined fighting game out there.