If you've ever heard the word 'anime' uttered, ever, you've probably heard of Naruto. A popular ninja academy-based anime series about a young ninja who houses a dark creature within his body, it's been running for many years now. No surprise, then, that a bevy of games bearing its name are also available, right?
Naruto: Ninja Destiny is another fighting game based on the series, but instead of the home consoles it's available on the Nintendo DS. You take on the role of one of the ninjas from the anime series, battle it out, punches and kicks fly, and someone wins. You can punch hard, you can punch weak, you can block, and you can use a special chakra move. To do this, you must fill up your chakra gauge by landing attacks until it's full, then pressing 'A'. Oh, and you can teleport behind your opponent, a technique known as substitution jutsu.
It just doesn't feel like enough. For the DS, there are multiple icons displayed in the bottom row of the screen that allow you to double your power, raise your armour, fill your chakra bar, and gain more effects to help you in the middle of combat. They're an interesting touch, but they're just not enough of an addition to a fighting game that feels extremely thin (we're talking veneer thin here) in the strategy department and even thinner when it comes to difficulty.
Difficulty is often a subjective thing, but when I can beat the story mode of the game while literally closing my eyes and pressing the attack buttons over and over again (with a substitution jutsu thrown in to get through the computer's incessant dodging), then something is wrong with the gameplay. If you want, you can activate the special jutsu attack to watch a little twenty-second cutscene of your character activating a move made famous from the anime, and then do a bunch of damage, but it hardly seems worth it when you can get the same effect by pressing attack buttons over and over again.
The game feels equally lacklustre in its game modes. There's a simple one-vs-one mode, a battle mode that pits you and a character against a line-up of battlers, the obligatory multiplayer mode (though it's multi-card only), and the story mode. The story mode is the weakest of them all. This is weird considering that this is an anime that has been around for a long time, so one would assume that it would therefore have a fair amount of story to pull from. Well, it does. The problem here is that the game essentially condenses multiple seasons into a single, twenty-minute experience. People who haven't seen the show aren't going to know what's going on, and people who have are going to be disappointed by the fact that everything is conveyed by talking heads and text, interspersed with battles.
Fighting through the battle mode is one of the primary ways to unlock characters, but it comes at a price: namely, you're going to have to fight through the battle mode repeatedly. And for what? None of the characters seem to be any different from one another, as the only noticeable difference is their powerful chakra move that they perform with a full gauge. Some of the combos you can pull off via combinations of weak and strong attacks are a little, but barely different, and it just doesn't feel like any of it is worth the effort. Once you've played through the story and a single battle mode, it's pretty safe to say that you've experienced all that the game can offer.
There're just not a lot of redeeming features in Naruto: Ninja Destiny. The graphics are pretty good for the DS: the 3D cel-shaded graphics return from the console games, albeit on blank and boring backgrounds. Other than that, however, I'm finding myself hard-pressed to find reasons to recommend this. If you're a fan of the series, more than likely you've already played a version on a home console. Save yourself the money, play that, and purchase a set of DVDs instead. Trust me, it'll last longer.