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Naruto: Ninja Destiny (DS) artwork

Naruto: Ninja Destiny (DS) review

"A quick character like Neji can blitz his light attacks, scraping his opponent off the ground by chaining together the same rudimentary combo over and over. However, a similar approach for Sakura results in weak, worthless slaps. Only by hammering her heavy punches can you beat down the AI with your eyes closed."

Naruto: Ninja Destiny is a simple one-on-one fighter; it's essentially a scaled-down version of the Clash of Ninja series seen on Nintendo's consoles. Those games brought the Naruto universe to life in cel-shaded 3-D, offering subtle depth while providing a control scheme accessible to any fan of the hit anime. However, most of the style and nuance – along with facial detail – is lost in the transition from big screen to small. Ninja Destiny ends up short on features, short on fighters, and fails to bring anything new to the oversaturated Naruto game market.

The shortcomings start with the story mode. The scene opens to the final rounds of the Chuunin Exam and wraps at the conclusion of the Search for Tsunade arc. In other words, it covers the same events as the previously released Clash of Ninja Revolution. Ninja Destiny condenses the action even further, though, cramming almost forty episodes of action into a mere ten battles. And if the words 'Chuunin' or 'Tsunade' don't sound familiar, the scant dialogue between talking heads that precedes each fight isn't going to help. The game doesn't tell a tale as much as it alludes to key events, leaving your memory to fill in the important details.

At least you get to control different characters. The perspective jumps from Naruto to Sasuke to Kakashi; you'll even have to help the evil Orochimaru tune up Tsunade in order to move the plot along. For this advanced period in the timeline, though, it's disappointing to see such a small sampling of characters; there are sixteen in all, but that includes alternate versions of Nine-Tails Naruto and Curse-Mark Sasuke. Anyone not vital to the selected story arcs is left out. Most of the Leaf ninja rookies, the third Sand sibling Kankuro, and Itachi's scaly partner Kisame are excluded from the action.

There is good news for the fighters that did make the cut. They all move in a distinct manner, attacking within their established style. A quick character like Neji can blitz his light attacks, scraping his opponent off the ground by chaining together the same rudimentary combo over and over. However, a similar approach for Sakura results in weak, worthless slaps. Only by hammering her heavy punches can you beat down the AI with your eyes closed.

Victory doesn't demand your undivided attention for one main reason: special attacks that deal a ridiculous amount of damage. Take Naruto's doppelganger assault, the Uzumaki Barrage. Ninja Destiny follows convention by showing different angles of the finishing kick, a heel to the back of the head that sends the opponent spiraling into the ground. A portion of life is deducted during each replay; it ends up claiming five-eighths of the life meter. Itachi's devastating Mangekyo Sharingan might as well be an actual death glare; it cuts through three-fourths of his target's health.

Now, Clash of Ninja contains devastating specials as well, but the situation here is exacerbated by Ninja Destiny's free-flowing chakra. This spiritual energy is a valuable commodity in both Naruto titles. In addition to powerful attacks, it also provides for teleportation, which allows you to jump out of receiving a combo and turn the tables on your enemy. In CoN, chakra is harder to replenish, making it a calculated risk to blow it all on a supermove. If the opponent dodges, you have little choice but to accept his punishment. In Ninja Destiny a special may not even exhaust your entire chakra supply. One or two punches, even they're blocked, will muster enough to teleport behind the other player. A few more, and the meter's full. It doesn't matter that several characters, like the trio of legendary Sannin, have comparatively weak signature jutsu. There's no disincentive against racing for the homerun hit, and the contest loses any trace of finesse.

Ninja Destiny tries to reclaim its strategy with one more uneven element: randomized powerups. At the beginning of any battle, the touch screen is stocked with six performance enhancers; just use your thumb whenever you need to seal away the enemy's jutsu or enjoy a dose of invincibility. Against the CPU, these are another cushy layer of security. Against another person (with their own game cartridge), they're an unfair remedy for the special attack problem. It's possible one person could receive all health boosters, while the other stares at relatively worthless chakra increases. It's hard to beat someone when they can absorb up to six times as much damage as you.

The powerup crapshoot is the one unique piece to this game, and it denigrates its value rather than enhancing it. This title certainly doesn't offer anything original, even within its own boundaries. Like the story mode, the single-player battle mode presents ten fights, except the opponents are random and the minimal dialogue has been stripped away. Ninja Desinty is just mindless fighting, cheaping yet another glimpse of your favorite characters. Only check it out if you're desperate to take adolescent ninja action wherever you go. Plenty of superior Naruto alternatives are out there.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (November 09, 2009)

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