I’ve been praising Naruto games for a while now. While you’d figure that a license that has, on average, a game coming out every three months for the past four years would have gone dull a long time ago, a combination of unique gameplay options and bold new stories have made the games, at the very least, decent. Naruto’s fighting games, however, have been the most enjoyable of the lot. With multiple series across all three major consoles (as well as handheld spin-offs), there are lots of different games that have gone in different directions. Because of that, you can really consider it meaningful when I say that this is probably the single best Naruto game yet.
The gameplay in the Clash of Ninja series has remained largely the same since it started back on the Gamecube. There are two primary attack buttons (A and B) that can be strung into simple combos which can be strung further into juggles. Fights take place in 3D environments that can be navigated with the shoulder buttons. In addition, there are throws and the beloved “jutsus” (super-strong elemental ninja moves). Jutsus draw from “chakra” or, as most fighting games call it, the “super meter”, which can also be used for a teleportation/replacement jutsu that will let you escape from an opponent’s combo. The sum is accessible, yet deep enough to keep from being boring. CONR3 introduces other new gameplay features in CONR3 that add some welcomed spice. One such feature is a Dead or Alive 4-style tag team system, which allows for both on-the-fly character changing, as well as assist attacks. Also, each character has a “Latent Ninja Power”, a skill that activates when the character is low on health, and can do anything from boosting various statistics (higher defense or strength) to adding new moves. While it sounds like these would be totally game-changing, they don’t make a huge difference in the game as a whole and mainly serve to add a bit of nail-biting to closer matches.
As with most Naruto games (and some modern fighting games), the centerpiece of the single-player experience is the Story Mode. Clash of Ninja Revolution 3 returns to the series’ canon, covering the first story in the Shippuden series, with the Akatsuki abducting Gaara and Naruto, Sakura and Kakashi being sent to rescue him. Something of note is how surprisingly short the story mode is, with literally an hour or so of content. There is plenty to do outside the story, thankfully. The game features a traditional arcade mode in Score Attack, and there are the usual other gameplay modes like Survival Mode and Time Attack. Unfortunately the game’s single player experience is artificially lengthened by forcibly having to collect loads of unlockable content. I’m opposed to unlockables in fighting games as-is, but on top of being frustrating on its own, hours upon hours of tedium must be invested to unlock everything…which is plain-and-simple frustrating. That said, the frustration of unlocking everything belies just how much stuff there is in the game, with an enormous cast, lots of levels and multiple game modes.
Speaking of the cast, it is probably the game’s second strongest suit, with dozens of characters, including the bulk of the Naruto graduating class, characters from later in the story (most notably Sasuke and future protagonists Sai and Yamato) as well as the quartet of totally original characters from CONR2. Not only does the game feature a huge number of fighters, but the actual diversity in their movesets is nothing but impressive. The Clash of Ninja series to this point has had some issue with a lack of uniqueness between characters, save the fan-favorites. CONR3, though, has some really impressive movesets for the characters. Tenten, for example, has one of her attack buttons dedicated to procuring and using various weapons (spears, swords, etc.), which is a far cry from the formerly typical punch-punch-punch-punch-kick character she was before. Choji, meanwhile, has a unique set of moves based on sumo wrestling, some of which allow him to auto-guard (that is, barrel through) enemy attacks. While not everyone got as huge a retooling, the result is generally sweeping and adds a great deal to the game’s value as a fighting game.
More important than the cast, though, is the game’s Wi-Fi battling. Very few Wii games have actually bothered to tackle online play (or even good gameplay, but that’s another article), and almost none of them have been able to do it even remotely well. Clash of Ninja Revolution 3 is easily the best online game I’ve played on the Wii. The game’s online mode isn’t perfect, and is still a distance from Blazblue,but it is entirely playable and quite enjoyable.
The game’s graphics have also received a much-needed overhaul. From Clash of Ninja 1 on the Gamecube, all the way through Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 on the Wii, the series used the same stylistically sound, but increasingly out-of-date graphics. CONR3 has a substantially altered look for most of the cast which adds a breath of fresh air. While the graphics are by no means jaw-dropping, the cell-shaded style remains unique and tasteful, and isn’t the same ol’ same ol’ that dragged down CONR2. Sound also stays close to its roots, but remains fresh enough with the same voice acting cast from the anime, and the same music you’ve been hearing for a while now.
All that said, there is a whole lot to like about Clash of Ninja Revolution 3. The roster gives Naruto fans oodles to enjoy and the game is an all-around solid title in its own right. CONR3 really maximizes on the underlying potential the series has always had, and the online mode really pulls everything together to make it a game that, truly, can stand alongside the plethora of great fighters that have come out this year. On top of all that, I would venture to say that this title ranks among some of the best games on the Wii to date (granted, I haven’t loved much on the Wii, but this is a really good game). This is a game to mark down on your holiday shopping list, people.