Naruto is one of the biggest Japanese anime series out there with many fans in Japan and North America. Given all this success, Namco Bandai decided to bring this fun ninja series to the PS2 with Naruto: Ultimate Ninja for the PS2. I spent some time on the Namco Bandai booth on my last day of E3 coverage and got some hands on experience with the title. The game is a cell-shaded fighter and features a lot of characters from the show. It is also quite fun and a lot of detail has been taken from the series in terms of moves and tools used by players.
For those not familiar with the story, Naruto follows a young ninja from the leaf village that has a demon sealed within. The series follows his trials and tribulations while trying to become "Hokage" (which means head ninja of the village) and learning how to control the power of the "Kyuubi" (nine tails demon). This amazing story was written by none other than the creator of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama, and gives Ultimate Ninja a lot of content to borrow from. The game features quite a few characters from the show and most of the big names are included such as Naruto, Sakura, Rock-Lee, Kakashi and others. All characters have voice-overs from the North American version of the series and manage to feed the player with some familiar lines from the anime. These voices are not only present during cutscenes, but in fights as well.
The combat in Ultimate Ninja is not too complicated and most of the combos consist of a directional button and two other buttons. Characters in the game are not only restricted to physical moves, but can also use other means of attack such as Shurikens. These are item attacks and you must select the item you want to use before pressing the item button. You may also run out of trinkets to throw at your enemy so it is sometimes wise to save these for opportune moments. Other items included in the game are scrolls and these allow you to use a certain power. One of the scrolls featured in the E3 demo could be used to slow down enemies and the final version of the game promises other scrolls with special abilites. In addition to item attacks, the player may also use special attacks, which require chakra. As the battle progresses, a character may accumulate a certain amount of chakra and perform a special attack which causes a large amount of damage. Depending on how much chakra the player has, more special attacks are available. To use these special moves is actually quite easy and simply requires activating your chakra and attacking the enemy. However, after the activation, the player is faced with a button combination that must be input correctly to raise the attack to its greatest potential.
Another great thing about Naruto is aerial rave types of attacks. Even after being thrown into the air, the player can dodge an enemy's aerial attack and execute an attack of his own. The enemy can then dodge the new attack and this goes on back and forth until one enemy is down. The catch is, with each dodge, the speed of the game becomes faster and the other player must react quicker. And to complement the ninja aerial abilities present in the game, characters are also able to double jump and stick onto trees and other objects at the edge of the screen. Not only that, but players can also teleport to lower and upper parts of a level and receive ninja items from supporting characters featured in the show.
All of the aforementioned abilities make Ultimate Ninja a simple game to pick up and play. It's a lot of fun and definitely aimed towards the younger crowd. However, the game also brings a lot of depth to gameplay with different styles of attacks, combos, aerial attacks, and even ninja tools. The control scheme is almost too simple and whether or not this title can shine as a good fighter for the casual gamer remains to be seen. That being said, fans of the series are absolutely going to love Ultimate Ninja as it will likely be one of the better anime games to have graced the PS2 to date.