"Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2 pretends it doesn't have that little number at the end of its title. It uses the same cel-shaded graphics, features the same fighting engine, and even recycles combos for reappearing characters. The game goes so far as to completely subsume the story of its predecessor, starting over to tell Naruto's tale from the very beginning. Clash of Ninja 2 is superior, though, because of one profound improvement: four-way multiplayer."
Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2 pretends it doesn't have that little number at the end of its title. In many ways, it's basically identical to the original. It uses the same cel-shaded graphics, features the same fighting engine, and even recycles combos for reappearing characters. The game goes so far as to completely subsume the story of its predecessor, starting over to tell Naruto's tale from the very beginning. Clash of Ninja 2 is superior, though, because of one profound improvement: four-way multiplayer.
This new capability embraces a melee concept, reminding us how fun it is to throw our favorite characters in the ring and whale on our friends. It feels appreciably different from the regular two-player mode, which has the spirit of a two-dimensional fighter. Even though Clash of Ninja utilizes a 3-D arena – players can side-step around their enemy – characters move on a plane and attack mostly from in front or behind. With the four-way, however, you really can be assaulted from 360 degrees. The mode isn't just a free-for-all, either. Players can divide into teams, and the numbers don't have to be balanced. This new feature extends the life of a game whose examplar was horribly short.
Most important, though, this mechanism is used to move the action in the story mode closer to the action seen in the anime. No longer does the orange-clad ninja have to fight his battles alone. When Team 7 must pass their first trust-building exercise – snatching some silver bells from their teacher – all three kids are there to gang up on the adult. Out on the (future) Great Naruto Bridge, both Naruto and Sasuke step out to face the tragic mercenary Haku. The idea of a match is even modified a bit, so that Naruto has to fend off a torrent of Rain Ninja in the Forest of Death.
Since I mentioned the Forest, you can correctly infer that the action here surpasses the ending point to the first Clash of Ninja, the defeat of Haku and his mentor Zabuza. This sequel encompasses both the Chuunin Exam and the subsequent invasion of the Leaf Village. That means more characters are making their debut, including two of the Sand Siblings, Gaara and Kankuro.
Kankuro plays as the more interesting of the pair, since he's accompanied by his puppet on the battlefield. It's like controlling two fighters simultaneously. Always connected by chakra wires, the duo mirror their normal attacks, but Kankuro can also command it to spew noxious fumes or unleash a spring-loaded array of kunai. As the most powerful, though, Gaara naturally serves as the final boss in any single-player campaign. You can experience firsthand the futility of fighting against him. His special sand slides in the way of so many attacks, making him seem as invincible as he is in the anime.
Those two new entrants are just the beginning, as Clash of Ninja 2 more than doubles the previous roster, increasing it to nearly twenty distinct characters. That includes many other hopeful genin like Neji, Shikamaru, Ino, Kiba, and Hinata. Kakashi's ridiculous rival, Might Guy, also shows up; and he enthusiastically embraces his opponents to death. The sinister villain Orochimaru even snakes into the ring once you do enough to unlock him. These additions alone make the game worthwhile; having only eight ninja in the first installment was nigh intolerable.
The combat framework for these fighters remains virtually unchanged, which means it still accommodates both beginners and advanced players. Newbies can take advantage of automatic blocking and button-mashing combinations. They can also rely on special attacks as a crutch; these devastating moves cripple the opponent's life meter and cut to a special scene. I most enjoy Kiba's man/beast clone, where he teams with his canine partner Akamaru to unleash a dual whirlwind of pain. Gaara's Sand Coffin has to be the most terrifying, though; he envelops his opponent in the tiny particles, then mercilessly crushes their bodies.
Veterans won't be distracted by these specials, knowing that precious chakra is better saved for breaking out of enemy combos and landing counterattacks. They're also aware that a string of light attacks and juggling can do as much damage as the flashier alternative. And since the returning characters use the same basic movesets as before, they'll have a head-start there as well.
They deserve it. There's no question; this feels like what the first game should have been. That effort just didn't have enough material to work with yet, resulting in a small roster and abbreviated story mode. It left me asking for more. With its new modes, larger cast and longer story, Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2 delivers.
Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (August 08, 2009)
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