I’ve reviewed a whole lot of Naruto games. Many, many Naruto games. For all the consoles. But this one? This one’s the first to actually impress me with what it has done. In all seriousness, I am stunned by just how much content is actually in this game. Maybe it’s just because the past Naruto games I’ve played have been so unfaithful to their source material. Maybe it’s because of the lack of entertaining unlockables many games have had. Or maybe it’s just how most of the stuff outside the core gameplay just hasn’t been that good. But Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 is the single best Naruto game there is. While that isn’t saying much (the highest scores I’ve given Naruto games are 7.0/10 on Clash of Ninja Revolution for the Wii and Ninja Destiny for the DS), I’ve played a lot of them, and I’m legitimately surprised by how good Ultimate Ninja 3 is.
Let me start by prefacing everything by pointing out that the actual gameplay of UN3 isn’t that good. In the purest sense of the word, UN3 is a button masher. The control scheme is a unique, yet terribly unruly setup. As is typical with fighting games, each character has a “health” meter and a “chakra” meter. There is only one actual attack button (circle). Pressing different directions allow you to pull off many different attacks. Additionally, characters also have “jutsus” or more-powerful attacks done by pressing two directions, then circle (down, down, Circle, for example), which draw from the meter, a la Guilty Gear XX Accent Core. There are also weapon attacks, done with the square button. Characters, typically, have a specific weapon they are in infinite supply of, (shurikens in most, cases, but some characters have special, character-specific weapons they use on the show such as Kidomaru’s web kunai) there are also silly little items that fall from the sky like explosive tags and windmill shurikens, which are can be toggled between by pressing L1 and R1, which are more annoying than well-crafted parts of the game like items in Smash Bros.. Characters also have some powerful “final” attacks, which are activated using triangle, and then used by pressing circle. If it hits, it does a serious amount of damage, and is accompanied with a little mini-FMV. Finally, levels take place over multi-plane, and sometimes platformed stages, which is more annoying than anything else. Ultimately, I would have to say when it comes to the actual fighting, that the Clash of Ninja games are better.
There are two key things, though, that put UN3 over their Nintendo-based competitors. The Naruto anime is a character-driven story. There is a Simpsons-esque cast in the series, with developed relationships and abilities. The problem most Naruto games have had is that they don’t capitalize on this. Clash of Ninja and Ninja Destiny both had lamentably small lists of fighters for a series built from the bottom up for having a massive cast of lovable characters. While most games flop on this, UN3 is great because of it. To be forward, this game has almost every character. Seriously. It has all the main squads, all the instructors, Tsunade, Orochimaru, Jiraiya, the Gaara squad, and a plethora of other characters from oft-ignored main characters like Kabuto to head scratchers like Shizune. Also, there are special alternate versions of characters, like “Green Beast” Naruto (who uses Rock Lee-style hand-to-hand with Naruto’s jutsus), and Anbu Kakashi (who has the odd distinction of being the only ninja in the game who fights with a sword). Naruto fans should be pleased about the actual inclusion of multiple jutsus characters have learned. Kakashi, for example, actually has his dog-summoning techniques AND his chidori. Rock Lee actually has the Lotus moves AND the Drunk- …I mean…Loopy Fist. And all this comes from Namco-Bandai throwing out any attempts to actually make the game into a serious fighter, which actually isn’t a bad idea, since their competitors aren’t really making a particularly great fighting game, anyway.
UN3 has a few modes of gameplay, all of which are (thankfully) fighting-intensive. The most impressive mode of gameplay, in my opinion, is the “Hero’s History” mode. Thus far, Naruto games have had an excessively difficult time when it comes to actually incorporating the story of the series into the game. Clash of Ninja did so by throwing in little bits of dialogue accompanied by static portraits of the characters talking, trying and convey a reason for the fight between characters who often never even put up their dukes against each other in the show. UN3 goes down a different street, by only including a select sixteen fights, four for each of the main Naruto arcs (the Zabuza arc, the Chuunin exams, the hunt for Tsunade and chasing Sasuke), and while they aren’t all faithfully recreated in the game from the anime (for example, Naruto beating Kakashi is the first fight) in a totally scripted manner, they’re far, far better than anything else in any of the other Naruto games. All the fights are accompanied by a before-and-after pair of really well-done FMVs. Unsurprisingly, the guys at CyberConnect2, who made the not-that-good-save-presentation .hack// games, were behind UN3, and made a strikingly similar game in that sense, which naturally lends itself better to fighting games because you don’t have to deal with forty hours of mediocre gameplay. Ultimately, what this boils down to, is that for a fan of the Naruto anime series, Ultimate Ninja 3 is the best game there is if they’re looking for a faithful recreation of the anime.
I’m not going to say that Ultimate Ninja 3 has the best gameplay of any of the Naruto games. It is not even the best fighting game (I’d give that title to Clash of Ninja 2). But what I will say is that Ultimate Ninja 3 is the best all around Naruto game to date.
P.S., the game costs $40.00 (USD), compared to Clash of Ninja Revolution’s $20.00 and Clash of Ninja 2’s, which is why I gave such a low value rating to the title. Also, it doesn’t have online play. $40.00 is just a bit much, in my opinion.