IGN Review of Naruto: Clash of Ninja
The GameCube may be slowing down in preparation for Nintendo's upcoming Revolution, but there are a few companies out there making sure you have something entertaining to play in the interim. IGNcube has made a point to show off Eighting studio's Japanese hit Naruto: Clash of Ninja as much as possible since the game's confirmed US release. Some may assume we've been covering the game this much because it's the only news around. Others believe it is because Matt and I just can't get enough of the little blonde-haired ramen-eating ninja-boy. No matter which view you take, "believe it!" True, there isn't a ton left on the Cube plate until E3, but that makes Naruto: Clash of Ninja all the more enjoyable. Offering all the major characters from the show, and a solid yet simple play mechanic, Naruto: Clash of Ninja isn't perfect, but it's entertaining nonetheless.
For those not familiar with the Naruto franchise up until this point, it's really quite simple. Take the average anime storyline (young boy proves his worth, faces rival, falls down because he oogles the ladies too much...) and add a load of fighting. For obvious reasons, Eighting studios, responsible for the Bloody Roar franchise, found Naruto as a great license to expand the fighting genre. Right it was. Not only because it plays well, which we'll get to in a moment, but because it feels right at home on the Cube. The presentation is amazing, offering the full intro of the anime, impressive visuals that honestly don't have too many areas of improvement, and the complete feel of the franchise. Huge pieces of story art are included everywhere, whether it is menu selections, character select, loading screens or in-battle. The sense of style is really impressive.
The package consists of a few main game modes, such as Story, Arcade, Survival, and Two-Player Vs. There isn't a ton to experience aside from the main Story mode, which is actually pretty short. Much like any other fighting game, the replay value will have to come from enjoying fight after fight, rather than exploring a vast world with endless objectives. The Story mode follows only Naruto, and offers snippets of story in two different ways. The narration of the story is done with scrolling text on a background image, which isn't too impressive, though it offers quick info that is needed to keep up with the storyline (especially if you're new to the series and don't know the actual plot). However, before and after each main battle the characters show up in huge portraits, and deliver short skits using the actual voice-actors from the show. Aside from the plot elements, Story mode is essentially the same length as the single player arcade mode. A far more in-depth adventure would have been nice, though as mentioned, players will either love or hate this game based on the fighting.
Aside from Story mode, there are a few other ways to play Clash of Ninja. Arcade mode offers a fair amount of replay to the game, since completing the adventure will unlock gallery art and other extras based on which character is used. Survival mode works just like every other fighting game, testing players to see how many consecutive fights can be won in sudden death bouts. No continues allowed. Depending on the speed of a battle, the player is rewarded with additional health, and adversaries get harder and harder after each successful win. Beating survival mode will unlock extras as well, though it gets a bit repetitive fighting the same nine characters over and over again.
More important than the amount of modes or extras in a fighting game, however, is the actual combat mechanic. If a fighter controls well, nothing else is really needed to enjoy it. The battle design in Naruto is a bit of a toss up, having some elements work amazingly well, while others come up a bit short. In Japan, the Clash of Ninja series is on its fourth version, so it is understandable that the first game isn't completely polished. Much of the potential of the series will come in the later versions of the game, though Naruto fans (or starved Cube owners) still have a very enjoyable time ahead of them in this version.
Fighting is set up in a 3D arena, and designed identical to games like Tekken or DOA. Control is done with the stick, as well as jumping and running. Every character can sprint by using a double tap in a single direction, and each have a double-jump as well. The main combat uses only the A and B buttons, having B used for all basic attacks, and A used for all specials. The Y is used for throwing, and X executes the characters special move. Since the game is essentially two buttons, fighting is fast but repetitive. Because of its simplicity, however, Clash of Ninja is great for younger gamers, but may only satisfy older players for a short time. Each character does have more complex combos, but the gameplay can become stale rather quickly. In fact, though they add a huge visual flare to the game, each character only has one super combo, and watching the animated attack play out every time gets old fast.
Despite being a bit basic, however, the battle design is very balanced, amazingly quick, and still a lot of fun. Every character plays slightly different, so even though the actual combos may be simple to pull off, the amount of depth in the game's cast helps a great deal. In fact, depending on which character is used, the entire flow of a battle will be changed. No matter what your fighting style is -- close range, quick, strong style, unorthodox -- there is a way for you to express it with the range of characters, and that's a great feeling. As a hardcore fighter, Naruto comes up short, but as an entertaining party-style game it really does the trick.
Aside from the actual combat, Naruto does a great job of showcasing the franchise though impressive visuals and strong audio. The game runs in progressive scan, so players who want to get the best visual production will have that option. The game's design looks spot on with the show as well, offering cel-shaded characters, tons of amazingly fluid animations, and a great deal of effects. Dust will puff from the ground when players fall or jump, classic anime speed-streaks can be found everywhere and the animated super combos add a ton of cinematic flare to the fights. Clash of Ninja won't disappoint fans in the audio department either. Every character has a ton of voice samples, and intros for fights actually pertain to the characters that are fighting. When Naruto and Iruka face off, Naruto's intro changes to say "Sensei! Buy me ramen if I win!" The musical score is taken directly form the show as well, which is also a plus. Just because the game may not be amazingly deep doesn't mean that it is an insult to the license, and Clash of Ninja proves that by mixing a great visual presentation with a strong score and tons of character dialogue.
©2006-03-08, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved