Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2
It must be hard to create a standout fighting game. With big-hitters such as Soul Calibur, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Street Fighter and Dead or Alive so completely dominating the field, you’d wonder where else developers can take the genre, and what could they possibly deliver that hasn’t been before? Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is the latest PS2 game based on the popular animation from Namco Bandai, and hopes to tap into the legions of fans of the energetic series.
Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution is easily one of the best beat ‘em ups available on PS2. Its real success is in the precision, the depth and the astonishing variety of options available. It’s realistic – as much as the genre warrants – and fighting moves and styles are cloned with considerable aplomb and competence on developer AM2’s part. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2, however, is a very different beast – in many ways almost the complete opposite of the exactitude and maturity of Sega’s classic fighting series. Seemingly designed for the ADD generation, almost everything occurring on screen is ridiculously elaborate – the camera zooms around to get the most dramatic point-of-view as characters beat each other senseless and throw one another across the arena.
Of course, that’s not to say Naruto is a bad game, by any standard. Just that it all feels rather shallow and needlessly over-the-top. When you’re playing you can’t help but feel that unless your combatant is jumping around like a hyperactive insect, running up walls and knocking his or her opponent forty feet into the air, that you’re probably not quite fighting how you’re supposed to be.
Approaching this game, I knew very little about the series, so the killer hook the developers hope will entice fans will obviously be somewhat lost on people like me. However, it features very competent presentation, adequate sound effects and really attractive graphics. The style and art of the series has been replicated admirably – animations and character models in particular are very pleasing on the eye, adopting a striking cel-shading technique that suits the franchise perfectly. Buildings and fauna seem a little flat and lifeless by comparison, but this never seems like too much of an issue. The character voices are decent on the whole, and long time fans of the series will be very pleased to know that every character communicates using full voice overs, with members of the cast lending their talents to create that authentic Naruto experience.
The combat has layers of strategy and a plentiful number of combos and moves, which becomes apparent when you start on the training mode. Combatants can throw a small variety of weapons (such as shurikens/ninja stars, etc), and they have a range of ordinary punches and kicks, as well as the capability to build up special attacks. Destroying the multitude of regenerating objects which are scattered around the arenas (such as sign posts/vases, etc) yields health supplements and power-ups, which can lend a strategic element to proceedings.
A big problem is that fights can be won with very little skill. A lot of the time pressing circle repeatedly mixed with hitting the d-pad at random, jumping every now and then and the occasional tapping of square will get you through fights successfully. If you’re prepared to put the time in to learn move-sets and exploit characters’ strengths, then this is obviously the most efficient and rewarding method of doing things, but to everyone other than hardcore fanatics, this will all seem a bit unnecessary, since minimal effort coupled with a bit of button bashing is all that is required to progress far into the game.
In between the one-on-one fights, you can run around the town and talk to people, collect items or perhaps even do a bit of shopping (or just head to the next destination, if none of this is of interest). Sadly, these sections aren’t really all that involving because here your characters’ abilities are largely disjointed from their capabilities during the fights. Whearas in fights you sprint around, running up walls and leaping halfway across the screen, here you’re subjected to a comparatively slow run and the lack of any ability to jump or climb. It’s almost hard to believe these are the same sprightly young combatants who leap around and throw each other across fighting arenas with considerable ease.
You can participate in a few bemani-style mini games in these town sections which helps break things up a little, as well as upgrade your characters with attained experience and buy items off a merchant. The area is moderately sized and there are plenty of people to talk to, and you can also view a handy map which directs you to the next plot event. There is perhaps a little more loading here than would be ideal, but it is always brief.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is a fairly enjoyable game, with a really attractive and striking visual style and presentation. It’s brought down by undeveloped town sections and cheap fighting tactics, but if you are a fan of the animé then this is worth a look. However, if you are a fan of fighting games with depth and pacing (of which there are no shortage on the PS2) then this is probably not the title for you.