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Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 (DS) artwork

Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 (DS) review

"There's a nice amount of variety and nuance for those who seek it out, and an accessible button-masher for everyone else. Ninja Destiny 2 does just enough to put it at the top of the Naruto DS mountain for now, though the franchise certainly has room for improvement. Expect it to do so, same time next year."

Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 excels over its console counterpart, the Clash of Ninja series, in a single facet: speed. The one-on-one fighting in this handheld version feels faster than on the Wii, which produces frantic multiplayer... even though it's still local multi-card only. Action isn't the only area where this title shows its alacrity, though, as Ninja Destiny 2 also won the biggest race of all. It beat CoN to the Shippuden punch. That means this title is the first Nintendo destination where you can see how Naruto and his friends have grown up in full 3-D, blocky as it may be on the small DS screens.

The Story Mode showcases the newly-matured ninja in familiar territory; every Shippuden game seems to visit the first major story sequence after the 2½ year timeskip, the Gaara Rescue arc. This plotline sees the nefarious Akatsuki organization kidnap Gaara, and introduces us to two new villains: Deidara, the artistically-minded bomber, and red-haired Sasori, the true form of a master puppeteer. However, Ninja Destiny 2 thankfully extends beyond that, tracking Naruto and Sakura as they make their way to Orochimaru's lair, which leads to a dramatic encounter with their traitorous teammate Sasuke (in yet another new wardrobe change). In addition to bringing back familiar foes in Orochimaru and his assistant Kabuto, it unveils two new members of Naruto's team: Yamato, an experienced ninja serving as a temporary leader, and the enigmatic Sai, Sasuke's replacement who can bring his ink paintings to life.

It's certainly exciting to see not only the new characters, but the changes to the old as well. Naruto has cut down on his orange, Temari wears a black kimono, and Sakura has switched to a more mature skirt. Don't be get too excited, though, by the game's claim of 34 total fighters. Many of these are the younger versions of the those who have aged, ported over from the first Ninja Destiny. It may be novel to pit an adolescent Neji or Rock Lee against their teenage selves, but most every fan would rather see greater variety. For example, Kankuro, Tenten and Choji all appear in various story scenes, but never see action on the battlefield in any capacity.

The omissions are a sign. Ninja Destiny 2 doesn't so much tell the story as skim its most essential parts; it'll gloss over extraneous fights with a single line of text. These cuts accommodate this sequel's new feature, an adventure mode that approximates simplified dungeon crawling. Each mission includes a maze for Naruto to navigate, where he must randomly defeat hapless, nameless ninja. This addition is fully utilized in a separate Quest Mode that consists of thirty excruciating floors of randomly generated mazes (and can mysteriously only be tackled by ten of the playable characters).

Ninja Destiny should just stick with the pick-up-and-play simplicity of its fighting action. It's setup is similar to either Clash of Ninja release for the GameCube. There are only two attack buttons, one each for a light and heavy strike. There's also a button to block... and no autoblocking. That means whoever is quickest with the offense wins, and the key to speed is chakra. The chakra meter builds with every attack, either dispensed or received, and Ninja Destiny 2 seems to hand it out even faster than Clash of Ninja. It only takes a fraction of the bar to teleport behind your opponent. A quick character like Sasuke or Sai can gain enough for a couple of those misdirection jutsu with a single string of light attacks, meaning they can almost perpetually pop around the screen.

Of course, chakra retains its flashier use; each character can blow their whole meter on a devastating special attack. These are where the 3-D visuals are most appreciated, as it really shows off a fighter's unique skills. Sasuke is able to release the Chidori Current, surrounding his body in electricity. Yamato is able to crush his victims under giant, pliable pillars of wood.

There are other ways to differentiate the characters as well; not everyone is so agile as the all-powerful Sasuke. Old ninja like Jiraiya and Kakashi, or even the lazy Shikamaru, won't get the same burn from just spamming light attacks. Each fighter has their own combos and animations, so there's an opportunity to figure out each person's strong suits.

But only if you really feel like it. This sequel carries over the use of powerups from its predecessor. A maximum of six items like increased damage, bonus chakra, and invincibility clutter up the touch screen at the beginning of each bout, and a quick tap will bestow the benefits on your fighter. Matches definitely lose some intensity with a few life refills sitting around as a security blanket.

Still, there's a nice amount of variety and nuance for those who seek it out, and an accessible button-masher for everyone else. That's a familiar refrain for all these Naruto fighting games, which must first and foremost deliver what all fans seek: a chance to take their favorite characters for a test drive. Ninja Destiny 2 does just enough to put it at the top of the Naruto DS mountain for now, though the franchise certainly has room for improvement (hopefully by dropping this new adventure mode). Expect it to do so, same time next year.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (October 19, 2009)

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