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Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution III (Wii) artwork

Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution III (Wii) review

"If there's one thing that may never change about this established series, it's the basic fighting mechanics. And they don't need any adjustment. Clash of Ninja is a two-button fighter with the rare ability to cater to both novices and experts. Any Naruto fan should get their hands on this game."

The Clash of Ninja series continues to chug along, dishing out its yearly dose of solid fighting action to Naruto fans far and wide. This release marks the fifth iteration, but the introduction of the Shippuden storyline provides the perfect reason for a makeover, at least on the surface. Set after the two-and-a-half year skip in the Naruto saga, most of the familiar characters have matured into their teens, refined their fashion sense, and acquired fearsome attacks. The break also means an influx of new faces to fight, both friends and foes. However, the game's most exciting change has nothing to do with the progression of the Naruto universe. Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution 3 finally takes the action online.

Fortunately, the Wi-Fi Battle Mode isn't driven solely by Nintendo's friend codes, though it does allow you to keep a Friends List. The service can randomly pair you with an opponent for either a ranked match, with standardized settings, or an unranked match, where the host has the power to fiddle with the rules. As a neat extra, you can add any of these random players, with their approval, to your Rivals List and look them up later. It's a great way to develop grudge matches with all those unknown ninja out in the ether.

The existence of this online option is definitely a large step forward, but it's not a full, bounding stride. There's no avoiding lag, and it only includes choices for one-on-one or tag-team battles. Granted, these are the most technically demanding modes; tag-team especially creates clever openings to switch members in and out for extended attack combinations. However, it leaves the chaotic excitement of the four-player melee, where all the parties are fighting in the 3-D arena simultaneously, as a strictly offline attraction.

Nevertheless, Clash of Ninja is progressing, but if there's one thing that may never change about this established series, it's the basic fighting mechanics. And they don't need any adjustment. CoN is a two-button fighter with the rare ability to cater to both novices and experts. The remote is perfectly suited for pick-up-and-play flailing. Wave it around, and Neji will execute a series of graceful kicks before punting his opponent up into the air. Unleashing special jutsu, like Naruto's fearsome Rasengan, is as easy as pressing a button. You can even create some extra power with remote-specific motions that approximate the frantic spinning required to create the concentrated whirlwind. A good chunk of the game can be enjoyed with just these rudimentary skills.

There's real depth here, though. Each character has at least twenty combinations that intersperse button presses and shakes for a unique result. (Or just button presses, since any retro controller is compatible with the game.) For example, Tenten's ordinary kicks lead to a lethal pirouette, but mix in a heavy attack and she shows her skill at conjuring sharp weapons out of thin air. Rock Lee, on the other hand, has to rely on his brute force. He can effortlessly juggle his opponent halfway across the arena, and any heavy punch sends them the remainder of the way.

The game also contains advanced techniques: timing your dodges by sidestepping around an attack, canceling basic combos to extend into longer assaults, and tech-rolls and wake ups that handle how your fighter recovers from knockdowns. Ultimately, you can't always rely on flashy special moves or substitution jutsu to get out of a bind; the chakra required just doesn't replenish fast enough. Without proficiency in these split-second decisions, you'll eventually find yourself open to unrelenting combos, even if your opponent is the CPU.

The computer's main challenge comes in the Story Mode, which covers an abridged version of the Gaara Rescue arc. As with other Clash of Ninja entries, this mode presents a series of fights, but puts the player in control of different characters in varied circumstances. Naruto and Kakashi have separate battles against the bomb-tossing Deidara. Sakura and Granny Chiyo – fighting with her two puppets at her side – tag-team to take on Sasori, both inside and out of his massive Hiruko armor. Team Guy get to jump into the fray as a unit, making it three versus the scaly water ninja Kisame. With the variety comes fluctuating degrees of difficulty, punctuated by a grossly unfair, unbalanced fight against a souped-up Deidara. No matter the setting, it will take dozens of discouraging tries to finally defeat him.

It's doubly frustrating because clearing the Story Mode is the most expedient way to unlock a chunk of extra features. Clash of Ninja Revolution 3 makes you unlock almost everything: fighters, arenas, and additional modes. Actually, the experience is triply annoying, because there are usually two steps. First, you have to complete certain criteria to make an item available in the shop, then you have to grind to earn enough cash to purchase it. A typical battle – one where you take any damage at all – earns only a paltry fraction of the sum needed for the cheapest character. It'll take some determination to realize the complete roster.

Of course, it's worth it. The game reaches past the scope of its plotline to bring in other highly anticipated fighters. There's the mysterious Sai, Sasuke's replacement, and the experienced Leaf jonin Yamato, who briefly supervises Naruto in Kakashi's stead. Also present are two more members of the Akatsuki, Hidan and Kakuzu, each immortal in his own way. Eventually, Sasuke himself appears, ready to exact revenge on anyone and everyone.

These new additions push the final tally to forty unique characters, eight more than the previous version of the game. There's only one casualty: Ino Yamanaka. The original member of the Rookie Nine has shrunk in Shippuden, essentially serving as a spectator in battle. However, movesets were created for her peers that haven't seen extensive combat action, like Hinata and Shino. The game also reuses other characters, like Anko and Yugao Uzuki, who haven't been seen in the anime in ages. Even Kagura, Komachi, and Towa, who were created exclusively for Clash of Ninja Revolution 2, return for no apparent reason. The presence of these recycled remnants doesn't cover up Ino's absence.

But no matter who's in the arena, the cel-shaded character models seem just a bit sharper. Perhaps it's because they're also brought to life in the Story Mode, where the conversations are acted out instead of delivered by two-dimensional talking heads. These visual enhancements are most apparent, though, in each fighter's Special Technique. Gaara's Sand Coffin was already terrifying in previous games; he'd encase his opponent in sand, then squeeze his fist to crush the victim. Now the claw of Shukaku, the demon living in Gaara's body, bursts forth from a tsunami of sand, completely submerging his enemy in the wave. The new and improved Sand Burial is dynamic and impressive.

Just like the game as a whole. With progress in so many major areas, Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja 3 is easy to recommend. It plays as well as ever, looks cleaner, and the online component is an overdue treat. Any Naruto fan should get their hands on this game.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (November 23, 2009)

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