"The game heavily touts its original storyline, which was written exclusively for this North American release. It's supposed to feature two newly created members of the Anbu, the traditionally anonymous black ops squad serving Naruto's Hidden Leaf Village. But like a good substitution jutsu, that's an effective bit of misdirection."
Over a dozen Naruto games have hit shores outside of Japan, including three previous Clash of Ninja entries. To distinguish itself from such a crowded field, Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 would obviously benefit from trying anything a little different. That's why the game heavily touts its original storyline, which was written exclusively for this North American release. It's supposed to feature two newly created members of the Anbu, the traditionally anonymous black ops squad serving Naruto's Hidden Leaf Village. But like a good substitution jutsu, that's an effective bit of misdirection. The story mode quickly shifts all its focus back to the title character and his closest friends. So while Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 basically doubles the roster from its first Wii outing and even introduces a few mechanics with the remote, it's not the unique Naruto experience it claims to be.
The way the plot unfolds stands as the most disappointing development. When the game opens, we see the new Anbu members, Komachi and Towa, wearing the signature animal-themed kabuki masks of their squad. The pair happens upon a burning village and quickly ascertains the circumstances: something forced the townspeople to turn on each other. After dispatching a pitiful offering of generic ninja – tag-team style – they head back home to report their findings... Then neither of these two take to the battlefield again until the end is near, when you actually take control of the villain to beat them down. I understand these two will likely never appear after this game, but the potentially insteresting pair shouldn't have been brushed off so lightly.
Predictably, Naruto and his companions take up the investigation in their stead. Or at least, the friends he has left. The same genjutsu has already been unleashed on the Hidden Leaf, so quite a few familiar faces have turned on our heroes. Most of the twenty (or so) stages in the story mode pit you against a bewitched ally. The person (or persons) you control will switch every stage, as will the victory conditions and number of opponents. These levels also show off the local multiplayer modes: tag-team and four-player melee. (Sorry, there are no online features here.)
A tag-team match has up to two fighters per side, but still sticks to one-on-one fighting; the inactive character will slowly regain health and the chakra needed to unleash special moves. For a melee match, everyone jumps in the fray at once, and strategy tends to fly out the window. In the story, Naruto first tags out with Gaara of the Sand to defeat fellow leaf ninja Hinata and Shino, although there's no requirement the sides be balanced in number. For example, Rock Lee must later face the unthinkable and take down his mentor Might Guy, with an assist from computer-controlled Naruto and Sakura. Theoretically, a three-to-one advantage should give you a huge edge. However, only Lee's signature Primary Lotus, a spinning pile-drive into the ground, will bring down the more experienced ninja. The quick changeups between stages keep it interesting, since you're forced to become accustomed to different characters and meet different challenges.
In general, though, strategies don't change much between fighters. The recommended controls naturally adopt the motion capabilities of the Wii remote. Light attacks are performed with a flick of the wrist, while heavy attacks and special moves use a single button press. It's a system conducive to random flailing and mashing, since it's relatively difficult to execute a sequence that alternates movement between your arm and fingers. A chain of light attacks is usually a consistently effective combination, anyway. Plus, the characters have been rebalanced to make sure no one has a completely devastating attack. (Although the jonin seem to have an edge over their students.) Moving around, meanwhile, is handled with the analog stick on the nunchuk. The environments are 3-D, but your character will really only attack along a 2-D line. You can change the plane by sidestepping, which is an effective way of dodging or finding an opening, but the game doesn't offer the free range of movement seen in some of its contemporary counterparts.
There's one unique touch with the remote/nunchuk setup. You can add a bit of extra oomph to attacks by completing hand motions that correspond to the character's movements; the choreography appears on-screen so it's easy to follow. Take Naruto's Rasengan, where he concentrates a ball of chakra in his hand and grinds it into his target. To complement it, you have to spin both controllers in circles as he collects power, thrust the remote forward in conjunction with his strike, and then vigorously shake it side-to-side. You can also perform motions that approximate handsigns and activate certain jutsu, resulting in boosts to chakra, health, or attack power. The downside is that these features aren't available at all if you use the GameCube or classic controllers. To have a neat component like this selectively missing seems a little wrong.
But at this point in the series' life, even these new modes and add-ons can't really keep the game fresh. The events here fall into the anime's timeline between the Chunin exams and the much anticipated time-skip, so all the characters are breaking out their tired old special moves. Naruto overwhelms people by producing a platoon of doppelgangers. Shikamaru's using his shadow-controlling techniques to bend people backwards into brick walls. Sakura still manifests her unrestrained inner-self to pummel her enemies; even her alternate extra-special attack is called 'Super Inner Sakura'. That's why the underuse of the original faces with fresh weapons is so discouraging. Komachi keeps senbon stuck in long ponytail, and will rain the needles down on her opponents. Towa uses a sword projected of chakra to cut people down. Kagura, the ultimate villainess, is the most fun; she fights with high-tension wires. In addition to binding her foe, she can also secure the threads overhead and swing a kick into her enemy.
So the final appeal of Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 comes down to how much you crave a roster upgrade. Granted, it brings a massive infusion, with fifteen characters not seen in the previous Wii version. That includes unleashed forms of some ninja: ultimate nine-tailed Naruto, a second-state Sasuke, and awakened Hinata. Much-loved Leaf jonin Kurenai, Asuma, and Anko make their debuts, and Kiba and Choji round out the rookie nine. Even the most obsessed over minor character appears, female Anbu squad member Yugao Uzuki. With no cuts from the original Revolution, the total comes to almost forty fighters. Clearing all their mission modes, which usually involve marathon survival sessions of ten straight matches, will take quite a while. Because of this gigantic roll of ninja, its low learning curve, and time-consuming longevity, Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 is more than adequate as a featherweight fighting game for any fan of the franchise. But it also officially takes us past the point of ever expecting anything profoundly new from the Clash series.
Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (December 01, 2008)
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