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Naruto: Ultimate Ninja (PlayStation 2) artwork

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja (PlayStation 2) review


"Taken as a pure brawler, Ultimate Ninja no doubt comes up wanting. There’s only one attack button. None of the fighters have that many attacks and combos, fifteen at the most. Every characters has specific moves, and some of the hidden characters have range and power advantages, but everyone does similar damage and moves alike; master one ninja and you’ve mastered them all. Topping that all off, everyone’s either extremely weak or extremely durable; it takes a ridiculous amount of time to win relying on straight-up fighting. All the more reason to not take this as a pure brawler."



I’m torn.

On one hand, Naruto is about this kid-ninja of the same name, who attends this ninja school with other kid-ninjas, who all have these weird kid-ninja powers and go on these kid-ninja adventures, making it anime’s answer to Harry Potter. It has some good fights (Sasuke vs. Orochimaru) and a few intriguing characters (Rock Lee, the crazy Bruce Lee lookalike of insane strength and humongous eyebrows) but, on the whole, it’s a mediocre show that spends too much time in flashbacks and inner monologues; destined to one day steal Dragon Ball Z’s title of ‘Anime That’s Not That Good But Is Popular In America For Some Reason.’

On the other hand, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja isn’t a bad game. At all.

Now, taken as a pure brawler, Ultimate Ninja comes up wanting. There’s only one attack button. None of the fighters have that many attacks and combos, fifteen at the most. Every characters has specific moves, and some of the hidden characters have range and power advantages, but everyone does similar damage and moves alike; master one ninja and you’ve mastered them all. Topping that all off, everyone’s either extremely weak or extremely durable; it takes a ridiculous amount of time to win relying on straight-up fighting.

All the more reason to not take this as a pure brawler. It’s better compared to, say, Super Smash Bros.; throwing items into the chaos, making the stages fight against more than the opponent does, kinetic settings making up for limited fighters.

You can get shurikens, that’s a given. But you’ve got scrolls, too; parchments that speed up or power up or knock up your defense. Recover health with food; recover energy by beating it out of your opponent, pick up a log for the old disappearing ninja trick.

You know, where you attack the ninja, but he switches out with a log at the last second and kills you from behind. That. They call it ‘Substitution Jutsu’ in the anime, but I figure this review is odd enough without me throwing stupid terminology around. Moving along.

Items all around, and you can hold them, store them, switch them any time. Makes things interesting. But getting bit by a giant snake is interesting, too. So is a huge sand whirlpool. So is a tornado dropping in the middle of the battlefield, threatening to send you, your opponent, and everything not nailed down flying away. It’s not always so drastic, sometimes it’s hardly a threat, but the stages in Ultimate Ninja are far from static; you need to mind your surroundings as you mind your enemy.

The items, the stages, and the agility inherent to a ninja make each fight a furious affair. Your jumping around, your foe’s jumping around, attacking from above, substituting logs, teleporting, running on wires, running over water, running up walls, even flying off to other stages on a whim. Multi-tiered fighting adds to the madness; every stage has two levels, foreground and background, and you can leap from one to the other with ease. Good for dodging attacks or surprise combos or just getting some space.

Now, what we have so far is a game that’s about 90% Super Smash Bros. and 10% Normal Fighting Game; the crazy party-play of the former, with the attacks and combos of the latter. But as good a game as Super Smash Bros. is to take after, Ultimate Ninja needs it’s own identity.

That’s where the special moves come in. Rock Lee demonstrates.

The special moves always start with a single attack; in this case, a blow from Lee’s deceptively scrawny shoulder. The screen changes to a cinema, you dial in a button combo and Lee handles the rest, moving faster than the eye can perceive, so quick that the only hint of his presence is the enemy’s body being buffeted by unseen blows.

It’s not over.

Input some more complex combinations and Lee goes on, leaps high, shoots his fist-tape out like a whip, yanks his rival up with him and send him rocketing back down with a brutal punch to the chest.

Still not over.

Rock Lee goes skyward once more with the most complex button combination, flying hard, like a rising meteorite. He streaks past his foe once, twice, thrice, again and again and again, until the black backdrop shines in an array of blazing lights, each one a hard-driven attack. When the darkness fades, Lee lands in a crouch. His opponent lands in a heap.

As DBZ–inspired uber attacks go: 8 out of 10.

Everyone has special moves and they all work the same way; big damage, takes a bite out of your energy gauge, tough to set up, a great way to win. Despite all working the same way, though, the actual animations are all unique, something-God help me-Naruto fans are bound to enjoy. Seeing Zabuza drown Kakashi with his devastating Giant Vortex Jutsu. Seeing Sasuke pick Neji apart with his Sharingan eye. Seeing Naruto befuddle Haku with the Harem Jutsu, transforming into a bunch of nude women…fondling him…and punching him when his guard’s down.

If you were a fan of Naruto, this would sound cool to you. Keep that in mind.

Anyway, Ultimate Ninja is a must-buy for Naruto’s budding crowd of future social rejects. Story modes for every character. Exclusive dialogue; even the menu’s have random talking. Little collectable action figure you can look at and…brag about, maybe. I don’t see the appeal there.

But take away the fan-love and I’d still recommend this as a competent fighting game; something you can mess with, enjoy, and return to Blockbuster overdue. If you can get past the nerdy exterior, you’ll enjoy.

That’s a big ‘if’, though.

Rating: 7/10

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Staff review by Zack Little (July 07, 2006)

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