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April 10, 2008
Naruto: Ninja Destiny - Review (DS)
by Jason Van Horn

One of the most popular (if not the most popular) manga/anime properties out there today is Naruto. It portrays a story about a young boy who has the imprisoned spirit of the Nine-Tailed Fox demon sealed within him and who grows up shunned, though it doesn't slow him down in his pursuit to become a ninja and ultimately become Hokage. There have been so many Naruto fighters for the various systems now that it's often hard to be impressed by anything new, but the latest for the DS – Naruto: Ninja Destiny – is a first for that system, and helps make the game something more than it would be ordinarily.

So far the most popular Naruto fighters have been on the Gamecube or Wii, which is where you could control Naruto and all his friends as they battled each other in a 3D fighter setting. When it comes to the DS Naruto games, they have been limited strictly to the 2D plane, looking and playing more like the Jump All-Stars series than in Virtua Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Given the popularity of those Nintendo Naruto games, perhaps it was only a matter of time before that same style was ported over to the DS to lend itself to an actual 3D fighter on the little handheld, a first for the system and the series. Though the original Japanese release featured some complaints of poor framerate, thankfully this issue is all but nonexistent for the North American release.

Naruto: Ninja Destiny (Naruto: ND from here on) is a pretty casual fighter, which has generally been the case regardless of the console platform. The interesting thing about Naruto: ND, however, is that while the game is casual friendly, in order to beat the higher end AI or players you'll to have to invest quite some time in learning the game. It is relatively simple to pick the game up, quickly get into the gameplay, and begin to do a few combos and special jutsu attacks. There is the possibility of depth waiting to be discovered, where a game between hardcore players could look like a deadly ballet as players throw combos, block, dodge in and out of the screen, and then counter each other with one substitution jutsu after another.

Naruto: ND primarily concerns itself with using the face buttons for all the main fighting mechanics. The Y-button is used for strong attacks, the B-button is used for weak attacks, the X-button makes you jump, the A-button performs your personalized special jutsu, and the L-button lets you perform substitution jutsu while the R-button lets you block. Unlike some fighters that rely on thumbstick/directional pad rolls to perform moves such as a fireball in the Street Fighter series, Naruto: ND is much more about figuring out the different combo attacks, which you discover by hitting the right attack button in the right order. For example, while a strong attack by itself might work well for a single attack, you can usually start with a few weak attacks and then lead to a strong, ultimately unleashing a devastating combo that does some tremendous damage and leaves your opponent knocked to the ground.

Besides knowing what combo to unleash at the right time, there are two other important parts to the fighting gameplay: 1) properly learning how to use your substitution jutsu, and 2) being able to unleash your special jutsu and have it land. Whenever you find yourself constantly getting pummeled with one combo after the next, often the best way out of it is to counter the attack by triggering your substitution jutsu. This allows you to disappear in a puff of smoke and re-appear behind your opponent, getting the drop on them. Suddenly you are off the defensive and on the offensive. The substitution jutsu works pretty well, though there are some flaws. Using it to teleport behind your opponent can result in getting caught in one of the movements of their attack. The special jutsus are also important, because if you manage to build up enough chakra to unleash one, you can turn the battle with one move and suddenly find yourself the winner. It's great to pull a win off using a move like Naruto's Rasengan at exactly the right moment, but the special jutsus are way too powerful. Being able to deplete up to about 75% of someone's life with one hit, many fights can be won in a matter of seconds depending on which character you are using.

With such a game on the DS, you'd hope that the developers would've found some way to use the touch screen to the game's advantage, since all the action of the battles is relegated to the top screen only. Though perhaps not as interesting or as in-depth as it could possibly be, you'll be using the touchscreen for one of several different powerups. This can do things like give you health, chakra, or keep you from getting knocked down or letting your opponent use their special jutsu. You have six randomly selected powerups you can use for each fight, which you can use at any time by simply tapping the icon on the screen. The powerups matter little on the easy difficulty setting, but when you're up against the more difficult AI or another human player, you better learn how to best use your powerups for the right situation, or else you could find yourself on the losing end.

In terms of characters, you only start with seven, but you have the chance to unlock almost double that by meeting certain requirements. Beating the game's story mode on both difficulties, beating the story mode without using a continue, or simply beating the game with one character to unlock another, all result with the character unlock. If you're a fan of Naruto you should be pleased with the fighters, as you've got Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Neji, Rock Lee, Kakashi, Gaara, and many others. The characters aren't so different from one another in terms of playing styles, so if you can play and use one character correctly, the new one you play with next will probably have the same feel overall. Don't go in expecting vastly different playing styles from one to the next, as you might expect in a game like the original Street Fighter II where playing with Ryu, Chun-Li, and Blanka all felt different from one another. If anything, Naruto: ND's characters are akin to playing as Ryu vs. Ken – there are some differences, but there aren't many.

The game's multiplayer module is sadly only available as wireless, two-player, multi-card battling. If you have all those elements already assembled, then you should have no problem picking the game up and having some fun. The multiplayer still suffers from the same gameplay flaws that are prevalent at times during the single-player gameplay. Thankfully, though some flaws cause problems from time to time, at least there aren 't any problems when it comes to lag-free gaming. So if you find yourself getting schooled by a friend, don't blame the loss on anyone but yourself.

Graphically the game is hard to talk about, because on one hand while the game might look like an utter mess at times, you also have to remember the game is attempting to be an actual 3D fighter, and so you have to give the game some liberties when reviewing it. If you take a moment to consider what must have been done to bring a 3D fighter to the DS, you'll be impressed at the graphics they managed to bring to the table. If you look at it without that context, however, the graphics really are quite poor, leaving it so that it often looks like colored blurs fighting more than highly distinguished anime characters. In terms of audio, the music playing in the background during fights sound really good, such as the sound of the various "hiyas" and other attacks. The biggest disappointment on the audio front comes from the voice acting, which is restricted in length because of the nature of the DS format, so the most you ever hear is a quick sound byte at the end of a battle from whoever won. While not bad, I really wish the voices had been used when the characters unleash their special jutsu, much like the characters do in the anime. There's just something more rewarding about hearing Naruto shout "Rasengan" out as he performs the move.

Naruto: Ninja Destiny isn't a great multiplayer game, but it certainly does enough things right to make it a competent fighter, though maybe only fans of the manga/anime will enjoy it for any long length of time. Though not perfect, I have hope for the game and that any subsequent games will take what's here, build on it, and really come out with an amazing 3D Naruto fighter the next time around.

3 out of 5

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