IGN Review of Naruto: Ninja Council
Whether you're a fan of Naruto or still new to the series, you really have to give publisher D3 props. While other companies have moved away from Nintendo's slowing hardware, D3 is attacking it. In the last few months we've seen support for both of Nintendo's slower consoles. Not only have GameCube fans received the first installment of the Clash of Ninja series imported from Japan, but an announcement has already been made for the sequel to hit the Cube yet again later this year. On the pocket side of things, D3 has released yet another Japan favorite for Naruto fans. Naruto: Ninja Council may not be the best action platformer we've seen on the Game Boy - we've seen quite a few - but it definitely earned its place on shelves. Combining the humor and character of the Naruto universe with some simple yet entertaining gameplay, Naruto: Ninja Council is highly recommended not only for diehard fans, but also for gamers dying to fill their GBA during the drought.
Naruto: Ninja Council is, in all respects, a run-of-the-mill "good" game. While there's nothing technically amazing going on, everything in the production is as solid as it needs to be to deliver an entertaining few hours of play. As a contribution to the Naruto franchise, the presentation hits its mark as well, offering cutscenes for characters, tons of voice acting and even a few bits of comedy thrown in for good measure. While Naruto: Ninja Council is a little short on the amount of levels, there's a good chunk of game to explore in various ways.
There are eight main stages in all, each concluding with a main boss fight. The gameplay is fast but simple, as players have a jump and attack button, double-tap dashing and three main super attacks. Using supers works based on timing, as the attack button is held until a charge meter is filled up. Based on the point it's filled to, a different attack is unleashed. Poor timing can also result in a failed or weaker version of the super, so learning to pull of major combos during the heat off battle is an acquired skill. Aside from the main attack abilities, both main characters have the ability to run up walls while dashing, throw ninja stars or other projectile weapons, and cast level-specific magic to solve puzzles and weaken bosses. It's a basic blend of classic gaming, but the appeal lies in the fact that everything works and everything's balanced.
In fact, your entire experience with Naruto: Ninja Council will be based on whether or not the gameplay intrigues you. Designers mix it up by adding in level-specific traps and enemies, but the gameplay is essentially the same. Replay value will be found in the same way as a game like Astro Boy or Guardian Heroes Advance, as the very act of battling is what determines the overall entertainment value. Boss battles are where the game really shines, as players square off in one-on-one battles (most of the time) against another key character from the show. The battles are great, playing out much like a simpler version of a Mega Man boss encounter. Characters will use only a few different attack patterns, and it's up to the player to memorize and counter the attacks. Why is the entire cast of the show against Naruto and Sasuke? Who knows. Designers don't slow the game down with story, rather Ninja Council is focused entirely on the action. It's simple, but entertaining.
Aside from the core gameplay, a lot of the appeal for Naruto: Ninja Council will depend on how much you enjoy the Naruto universe. For fans, Ninja Council delivers an entertaining conversion of the anime for quick bursts of gameplay. All major characters make an appearance, each with their own attacks and specials directly from the show. In fact, the characters also play along with their anime shtick despite being shrunk down onto the GBA screen. Konohamaru and Ebisu work together as the first boss, delivering comedy and opposition at the same time. As the battle progresses, Naruto will have to attack Ebisu while avoiding Konohamaru, since Konohamaru is known in the anime as being a young kid with far too much ambition. He may think he's ready to take on Naruto, but in reality Ebisu is doing all the work. It translates well, and it's really entertaining to see. In fact, many of the boss battles work along the same lines. Choji is constantly claiming that he isn't fat as he rolls around the battlefield as a human boulder, and Kiba constantly changes from animal to human during his bout. Everyone has their style, and they all stick to it.
Despite the commendable battle system and character attitudes, Naruto: Ninja Council is still stuck in the "good, not great" category. The production is a visual grab-bag, as some animations and effects are amazing, while the overall look is a bit dated on the GBA platform. The music is a bit on the basic side as well, though they make up for it with a nice sized amount of voice acting. As for the seemingly short length, fans have no reason to worry. Naruto: Ninja Council offers the main story mode with both Naruto and Sasuke, and though the story is the same regardless of which hero is chosen, the characters have a ton of variety in speed, power and special moves. In addition, each character has an unlockable super that can only be gained after mastering the game's "hard mode" that shows up after first completion. The difficulty increases substantially, and the boss battles are fierce and unforgiving. Anyone complaining about the lack of challenge in this one obviously didn't play through it in its entirety. That, or they're a true force to be reckoned with. Stick with it, and this one brings the pain.
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