In a world where everyone’s a ninja, no one is.
Fact: Ninjas are cool. Ninjas in movies. Ninjas in cartoons. Ninjas in games. I wish I could have my own pet ninja. He’d follow me everywhere, running agilely along rooftops and trees. When I’d say “Ninja-pet, come!” he’d do fifty front flips off of his high perch and land silently at my feet, and then when I’d say, “Ninja-pet, assassinate!” he’d disappear in a puff of smoke, off to do the cool things ninjas do. If only.
[image1]Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2 is a game about a ninja, but cool it is not. For those not in the know, Naruto’s world is a ninja world full of ninja people doing ninja things. Naruto is a boy-ninja with aspirations of becoming top ninja. To that end, he shows off his ninja skills by working as part of a ninja team that is sort of like a ninja detective agency. Naruto has a bunch of ninja friends, and they probably eat ninja food and play ninja games. I can at least understand that this is all totally acceptable fare in kiddie-anime, and is at least as complex and nuanced a world as that found in Dragon Ball Z. This in itself isn’t what makes this particular ninja game decidedly un-ninja-cool.
In Uzumaki Chronicles 2, Naruto and his co-ninjas investigate the Shirogane Clan’s interest in Spirit Orbs. Yes, it’s yet another game about a group of baddies’ unhealthy interest in a spherical object of immense and mysterious power. Some villains prefer princesses; the rest go for magical spheres (Ganon is considered a pervert by his villainous peers for his unusual interest in triangles). I’m not sure why bad guys don’t like cubes or pyramids or even some of the more complex shapes like hypercubes, but spheres clearly hold a special place in the hearts of video game villains.
The plot is told through a litany of overlong cut-scenes. There’s no real attempt to make a cohesive whole out of the story (other than the aforementioned clan of orb-hungry villains); instead, each mission feels like an individual mini-quest. You return to your HQ in Hidden Leaf Village after each mission and then promptly turn right back around again for your next mission. The constant back and forth destroys whatever momentum the story might otherwise have gained. Yo-Yo Ninja Tales might have been a better name for this game.
[image2]Worse, however, is the ill-conceived Action/RPG genre mix. While it’s commendable that the game includes some unexpected RPG elements (a world map, a character-building system, random enemy encounters, and adjustable abilities), those elements just get in the way. For example, when moving across the world map you will encounter random unseen enemies. Maybe “random” is the wrong word, though, since they always appear in the same spots. There’s absolutely no surprise to the encounters; the world map changes suddenly to a fight screen (insert Final Fantasy battle music here), and you must fight a rotating assortment of bad guys. Kill them off and return to your travels in the world map. The random encounters are about as much fun as the prospect of having to stop and tie your shoes every ten steps. The entire world map set-up just feels like painfully pointless filler. It would make much more sense and be far less tedious if you could simply leave Hidden Leaf Village HQ and arrive directly at your next destination. There have been many outstanding games that mixed these two genres effectively, but nearly all of the RPG-like additions in Naruto are utterly pointless.
Worse (yes, it gets worse), every time the game shifts between cut-scenes, fight sequences, mission destinations, or the overworld map, there’s a 5-10 second load screen. Not only must we endure the tedious trip from one end of the map to the other, but we must also endure many, many load-screens along the way. Since the game includes so many cut-scenes and since the overworld map continues to grow in size and tedium, the number of load-screens increases as well.
[image3]The game’s one strong point is in the responsiveness of its fight controls. True, the fight mechanics are incredibly simplistic, but they work smoothly and fluidly. On the fly, you can choose between a revolving cast of ninja friends to take Naruto’s place in battle. Naruto’s Shadow Clone Technique is pretty cool, too. His shadow clones will help in a fight, and they’ll also help out in finding hidden locations. These are a nice touch. It’s also worth mentioning that the game has a variety of game modes (including story, missions, survival, and two-player battle), and the main story can be played co-op. The clunky camera, though, makes co-op frustrating at best.
The game is colorful and has a near-cell-shaded look, and its vibrant color scheme disguises its underwhelming textures. Character animations during action sequences bring some life to an otherwise lifeless game. Uzumaki Chronicles 2 also uses extensive voice acting. Naruto speaks in his familiarly gruff, constant yell, and all his pals and enemies speak in an equally cartoony manner. The soundtrack is the expected blend of cartoon-rock and traditional Japanese music, but I was surprised at the clarity and quality of the music overall.
Early in the game, Naruto and pals encounter a group of evil puppets. They quickly kill them off, but more appear. “They just keep coming!” he yells in his pre-adolescent smoker’s rasp. Indeed. Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more Naruto games, more keep coming. That said, I’m sure fans of the Naruto license in its many forms will find everything they hope for. Despite its overpowering shortcomings, the game is still a Naruto game through and through. Strictly for the Naruto-minded.