"In practice, Shinobi Rumble doesn't deliver superior single-player combat. The fighting mechanics are technically simple, the computer's strategies are equally unsophisticated, and the story mode is simple shorthand. If you're going at this solo, the game will occupy a few hours and then be forgotten forever."
Naruto Shippuden: Shinobi Rumble is like an expansion pack for Tomy's prolific Ninja Council series. Though the Ninja Council games are side-scrolling platformers, they also usually feature a multiplayer mode where two to four players can brawl with their favorite characters. The catch, however, is that this mode was always inaccessible as a single-player option. So that's where Shinobi Rumble comes in. It provides the thrilling 2D fighting action you were never able to experience alone.
That's the theory anyway. In practice, Shinobi Rumble doesn't deliver superior single-player combat. The fighting mechanics are technically simple, lacking tricky combinations and character-specific tactics. The computer's strategies are equally unsophisticated, leading to generic battles. The story mode is simple shorthand; it's less of a retelling of Naruto's plot and more like expanded title cards for the participant's of the next bout. If you're going at this solo, the game will occupy a few hours and then be forgotten forever.
Before its time is up, Shinobi Rumble does have a couple of things to offer. First is a revamped character roster. Many of the old standbys have been left behind in favor of a concentrated lineup of sixteen fighters. The events of the story mode begin just as Naruto and his Hidden Leaf comrades (Sakura, Sai, Shikamaru, Kakashi, and Jiraiya) have really begun to dismantle the evil Akatsuki organization; you'll eventually glimpse villains Konan and Pain at the root of it all. Meanwhile, rogue ninja heartthrob Sasuke continues to hunt down his brother by assembling his own Team Hebi, consisting of the strongest remnants of Orochimaru's old forces. Different chapters put you in control of different characters. By the time the mode ends, you'll basically have fought using every one of these ninja.
The second attraction is the staple of multiplayer versus mode. Up to four players can fight solo or in teams, and the action is meant to be chaotic and unpredictable. Powerups, powerdowns, and health items are constantly thrown on the screen to swing the tide of battle. Terrain is varied. Forests feature branches to jump onto; mountains have ledges that can be destroyed. If you're fighting in Orochimaru's lair under the visage of a giant stone snake, you can knock out the lights and battle in the dark. And all the while, blows are delivered through fearsome special attacks, like Naruto's Rasengan or Sasuke's Amaterasu. Characters can even enter a special 'chak-rush' state where you have a limited time to fire off as many of these powerful moves as possible.
The predominance of the secret techniques causes some problems. Each one is preceded by a little cutscene; considering they're used so often, the flow can become choppy and uneven. Then there's the control scheme. These attacks can only be triggered through the touch screen. It contains a list with three moves (which can be customized as you unlock more), along with icons for more powerful 'ultra' variations of the same techniques. Not only will one of your thumbs have to leave either movement or defense behind for a moment to unleash the attack, your eyes will have to drift down to make sure you hit the right icon. Perhaps that's a fair tradeoff for the potential damage inflicted, but it feels like a cheap way to be caught off-guard.
Of course, the secret techniques overshadow any need for basic fighting proficiency. Shinobi Rumble utilizes a simple system of weak and strong attacks familiar in many anime-based brawlers. There's also some rudimentary juggling and the ability to use a counter off a block. However, compare the size of the health meter versus the amount of damage inflicted by normal attack, add in the quick recovery of chakra (which fuels those special attacks), and these ordinary combos amount to almost nothing.
As you can imagine, this ease of use leads to a drudgery in the other single-player modes. Each character has a ten-stage ladder they must climb (in one sitting) to unlock another fighter (only six are available to use at the game's start). The main variation is a challenge stage, which imposes certain restrictions, such as outlawing special techniques or stipulating you must avoid taking any damage. However, the reward here is only more supercharged attacks that you don't need.
That doesn't exactly breathe enough life into a game that feels recycled as soon as it starts. This is simply a little split from the Ninja Council series, ill-suited to stand on its own. Might as well keep it stuffed into the next version of that franchise.
Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (May 24, 2011)
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