Review: Naruto Powerful Shippuden

NarutoPowerfulShippuden

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 will hog all of the attention as the major HD console release, but there’s another new Naruto game out this month that may just sneak up and surprise you with some silly on-the-go brawling, even if you don’t have a deep attachment to the anime.

Based on the spin-off series Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals, Naruto Powerful Shippuden for the 3DS chronicles the exploits of the hyper-cheery teen ninja and his bushy-browed shinobi friend with more of a zany, lighthearted sense of humor than what you may be used to from the regular Naruto. Most notably, the series’ huge roster of characters has been given a chibi-style makeover, with oversized heads and bulging eyes that make the popular anime stars look more like vinyl figurine collectibles. Maybe it’s because I’m not a Naruto purist, but I prefer this caricature-esque approach to the series’ traditional art.

In storylines pulled directly from the anime, Naruto Uzumaki and Rock Lee join forces as co-stars in a dual campaign that gives each character his own sequence of missions to complete. Missions are presented in the form of a node-based map tree that sprouts new branches to follow as preceding missions are finished. Each character has a unique map, but at certain points in the mission progression certain levels require keys to unlock. At these times, you’ll need to switch to the other character’s map and complete specially marked stages to earn the necessary keys that will allow advancement through the other hero’s story. So basically you’re playing one large campaign even though it’s split between two characters. Large may be a generous description as well considering the main portion of the campaign is over in four to five hours.

Powerful Shippuden is a basic and approachable 2D brawler. In their respective storylines, Naruto and Rock Lee do some light side-scrolling platform hopping but mainly specialize in pounding on generic ninja dudes and critters like birds and giant toads within forested and mountainous locales that barely stretch beyond the size of the top screen. Both characters control the same, sharing the ability to string together normal attack combos, use Chakra to deploy special attacks (either by tapping icons on the touch screen or simultaneously pressing R and either the X or Y button), dash and evade enemy attacks, and call in temporary support from anime pals like Might Guy, Kakashi, Sakura, and Gaara.

The combat system is easy to pick up and pretty shallow overall, but the fluid, expressive animations and snappy controls help to counter what is largely a button-mashing beat ‘em-up. Each character lets his personality shine through in the way he fights. Naruto’s style is more serious and ninjutsu-focused. He can throw kunai for ranged attacks, use his cloning technique to call forth copies of himself as temporary fighting companions, and use skills that unleash the powers of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox sealed within. Rock Lee on the other hand employs the comical fighting style of a prankster, ripping off his bushy eyebrows to throw instead of regular shuriken and using sexy jutsu joke attacks to psychologically scar his enemies into submission. Who wouldn’t be traumatized watching Rock Lee flex his muscles while sporting a woman’s red bikini?

What ultimately holds the game back, though, is its general lack of depth and difficulty. Occasional one-off missions breathe some fresh air into the mix with tasks that involve such objectives as timing attacks to launch three different-sized statues into the air at the same time, hitting leaves that float down the screen before they reach the bottom, defending a barrier line from encroaching enemies until the timer hits zero, and punching birds and grabbing their feathers out of the air before they fall to the ground and get all dirty. However the bulk of the game consists of beating up waves of enemies and taking on other iconic Naruto characters in one-on-one boss-style showdowns. The game shows how it could have potentially been fleshed out to be more of a full-fledged 2D action-platformer during missions that involve sprinting through sprawling levels to collect scrolls or reach a goal point within a set period of time, but sadly the developers seemed all to content to shackle players with simple goals like “kill X number of enemies” or “survive waves of enemies until the clock runs out” for much of the campaign.

Given the simplistic, casual approach, you can also expect to coast along without a whole lot of resistance. Enemies, even bosses, are easy to overwhelm by relentlessly attacking with block-breaker combos that eventually force them into a state of exhaustion as attempts to dodge quickly suck away all of their chakra supply. Difficulty modifiers can be applied before playing each mission, but instead of making the game more challenging they merely increase the experience point multiplier if a set stipulation is achieved during the process of completing the main objective. Completing a level within 30 seconds or without getting hit a single time is definitely tough to pull off, but even if you fail to accomplish such goals the main mission is still a success. You just don’t get the extra experience. Because of this, stockpiling experience points to unlock new skills becomes nigh pointless. Except for when a mission requires having a certain skill equipped, there’s no need to waste time grinding for points so you can learn new attacks or upgrade support characters. Just dump everything into Naruto and Rock Lee’s main level progression to increase their health capacity, and you can whiz through the game no problem.

Once the campaign stories are over, bonus missions which remove the support character mechanic appear on the map and an Endless Battle survival mode pops up in the main menu, but neither of these unlockable extras add meaningful value to extend or expand the experience beyond what’s seen prior to the credits scroll. Naruto Powerful Shippuden is a fun game bursting with colorful personalities and goofy humor, but in the end everything sort of blurs together into a shallow brawler that plateaus early and never puts up enough of a challenge to garner long-term commitment.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Bizarre, goofball humor abounds
+ Cute chibi art design adds a ton of charm and personality
+ Expressive, smoothly animated combat captures the anime spirit

Cons:
– Limited depth and difficulty
– Not enough different mission types
– Bland level backgrounds with lacking 3D depth

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Inti Creates
Release Date: 3/5/2013
Genre: Action/Fighting
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!