If you’re a fan of the Naruto anime series, then you have a whole lot to look forward to from the gaming industry this year. Naruto games are appearing all over the place, encompassing many different genres and spanning every handheld and console (except for the PS3…sorry guys). Many of these games, though, have been fighting games. The Clash of Ninja series has been dominating the Nintendo consoles, and the Ultimate Ninja series has been helping the PS2 keep alive. Now, our pals over at Namco-Bandai are bringing the ninja combat over to the PSP. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes takes all the fast-paced, platformer-fighting action from the PS2 games and crams it into one UMD disk, but amplifies some of the unique aspects of the original Ultimate Ninja series that make it fun for casual fighting gamers.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is a lineup fighting games that take place on multi-tiered stages, similar to Super Smash Bros. but with a slightly-more 3d appearance. The controls are very simplistic, there is only one true attack button, which can do many different moves in unison with pressing down on different directions with the control pad. There is also a combo-stopping teleportation (a substitution jutsu, as fans would call it) which allows players to warp out of harm’s way. There are two main differences between this portable version of the series and the main games. The first is the three-on-three battles found exclusively in Ultimate Ninja Heroes. Instead of the standard one-on-one fighting found in most fighting games, Ultimate Ninja Heroes takes a King of Fighters approach to combat, and has each match take place with three characters on two teams. Like in the early King if Fighters games (1994-1998, and 2002), three characters are selected for each team. A fighter from each team enters, and when one dies, the next member of his team steps in. Very simple, but it adds a lot of balance through match-ups.
A serious disappointment for fans of the anime, though, is the lack of any kind of story mode. Namco-Bandai attempts to supplement this with Hero mode, essentially the game’s arcade mode, which sets the player’s team against a CPU team, allowing the player to obtain more and more characters (there are twenty total) and various other unlockables. Characters can be enhanced, though this never really works out in fighting games (when there isn’t consistency between the characters in a fighting game, it seriously hurts the competitive play for the game). For people without competition, this will be the place they spend most of their time. Oh…and there’s no online mode, which is a serious killer. There is single-disk play, so people with a PSP can play with their friends, even if they don’t have the game, but it would have been better if infrastructure mode was included.
Despite this, there is a lot for fans of the series to drool over. Almost all the characters in the anime up to this point are included (to be specific, the starting cast is made up of Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Rock Lee, Neji, Tenten, Shikamaru, Choji, Ino, Kiba, Shino and Hinata, while Jiraiya, Tsunade, Orochimaru, Kakashi, Gai, Itachi, Kisame and Gaara are all unlockable), though there are a few notable omissions. The stages are all taken directly from the show, with familiar locales like the Ichiraku Ramen House and the Chunin Exam Arena. And most importantly, there are all the over-the-top, colossal attacks with giant toads and lightning bolts shooting out of people’s hands that fans of the series will love (including some that are usable when you have certain teams…presumably the same teams from the anime).
Graphically, the game is on par with its PS2 counterparts, which is quite impressive considering it’s a PSP game. All the voice actors from the show are present to do their characters, making for some easy-on-the-ears grunts and groans. There is one notable problem with the graphics, though. Since the game is rearranged from the PS2 games, the presentation was all done separately, and looks fairly simplistic.
With the way the game is shaping up, Naruto fans will have a lot to look forward to when this game drops on August 28, 2007 (for $39.99).
Check out Mygamer for a review of the game when it hits.