"There's a reason they say patience is a virtue. Naruto: Clash of Ninja has only 8 distinct characters. In the story mode, you control Naruto as he fights each of these opponents once. It takes about fifteen minutes. After that, what's left?"
GameCube-owning Naruto fans had to be slobbering for this release. It would be their first chance to take control of the plucky ninja wearing an orange jumpsuit. Their initial opportunity to revel in the world of the hit anime, with its look so carefully captured in this video game. And Clash of Ninja delivers, providing fighting mechanics accessible enough for the masses as well. However, there's a reason they say patience is a virtue. With the overall story still in its relative infancy, there's just not much to do here.
The game explains the bare basics of that narrative, told through scrolling text and conversations between two-dimensional character portraits. There are, though, details within the battles that only those familiar with the source material will fully appreciate. Naruto feints with his sexy no jutsu, where he transforms into a naked girl. (The smoke from the maneuver always covers up the naughty bits). That move is sure to get the attention of his sensei Kakashi, who can counter by pulling out his perverted book, Make Out Paradise. Sakura, of course, sickeningly swoons any time her smug teammate Sasuke appears on screen. Well, okay, everyone is probably acquainted with lovestruck girls and emo anime boys, so this pair is easy for anyone to figure out.
Likewise, you don't have to know a whole lot to comprehend the fighting system. It's simple enough for beginners. Blocking is automatic, as long as you aren't moving. Learn a couple of combos where you smash the same button repeatedly, and you can find success against the computer. However, those looking for more will find some nuance. There is an advanced way to defend; fighters face each other along a two-dimensional plane, but can side-step around attacks in the three-dimensional arena. Every character also has unique attributes that play to their strengths. Take Sakura, who isn't physically substantial. She's instead blessed with a teleportation technique, and this allows her to take opponents by surprise.
There is one trifling problem: the system delivers too much damage. You expect devastating special moves. When Naruto splits into shadow clones, and they all connect with a punch or kick, it should hurt. When Sakura manifests her unstable Inner Self, her foe better feel the pummeling from its massive fists. Ablilities like this can dent nearly half a life-meter, though. And you don't expect a string of weak attacks to down an opponent's stamina by a fourth. This really cuts short the opportunity to learn the array of available moves, since the match is over before you need them.
The bigger problem, however, is a lack of material with which to work. There are only eight characters in this game. Team 7 populates four of those slots, leaving Iruka, the kindly Ninja Academy teacher, as the only other initial emissary of the Leaf Village. The mercenary ninjas Zabuza and Haku serve as the sole villains. In the story mode, you control Naruto as he fights each of these opponents once. The six bouts take about fifteen minutes. If you do it without a loss, then you unlock the only other distinct fighter, Rock Lee.
After that, what's left? Playing through the single-player mode with different characters awards some cool bonuses, Sharingan Kakashi and an Ultimate Naruto with his Kyuubi demon power released. Other than that, there's two-player variations, as well as time attack and survival single-player modes. I want a lot more – I want to get my fill of its intricacies, but there aren't too many places to do it.
Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (July 26, 2009)
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