There I was, standing in the middle of GameStop yesterday, holding a copy of TimeShift in one hand and a copy of Ubisoft's Naruto: Rise of the Ninja in the other. I only had $US 60 to spend, and the cashier behind the counter kept chanting, "TimeShift...TimeShift.." over and over again in a monotone voice. On the one hand I had been waiting for TimeShift for over two years. On the other, my nephew might come over this weekend and he loves him some Naruto. Having kicked a Frag Doll's >> arse </ at the game earlier this year, and being a good uncle, I had to go with Naruto. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the best purchasing decisions I've made in quite some time. Rise of the Ninja is really two games in one. There's an adventure game in which you run around Leaf Village doing quests as you follow Naruto on his rise from an obnoxious orphan everyone despises to an obnoxious ninja everybody seems to like. Then there's the fighting game, which allows you to test your ninja prowess against friends both online and offline. Statistically speaking, at least one of the two should suck. It is a licensed game after all, and while there have been several spectacular Japanese Naruto fighting games, this one was created by Ubisoft Montreal - the first non-Japanese developed Naruto game. Somehow they completely beat the odds. Both modes are pretty damn entertaining.
Tales Of The Obnoxious Ninja
Story mode features you as Naruto, running around Leaf Village doing quests, powering up your fighting moves, and going on missions that carry you through the storyline up to Naruto winning...some big thing. The Chunin Exam, possibly? Not being a big fan of the anime itself didn't stop me from enjoying story mode. It just made me terrible at writing about it. There's this evil sand guy, who tries to kill the bushy-eyebrow kid after nearly killing him anyway. I'll assume it does a pretty good job of following the story, because at several points I recognised moments from the Cartoon Network episodes I managed to catch. The action in story mode is a mix of platforming craziness interrupted by rounds of fighting. Say you are running through the woods and a bandit appears. In JRPG fashion you enter a battle screen which plays out like your standard 3D fighter. Despite a bunch of fights against the same four or five types of fodder over and over again, the fighting was always nicely balanced with the platforming so as to never feel tiresome or annoying.
The main fun of story mode lies in exploration. I could run around Leaf Village for hours, just sprinting about, jumping across rooftops, and generally being a little hyperactive jerk, just like the real Naruto. As you level up your jitsu powers, more areas open up to you, providing almost as much of a driving force to complete the game as the story itself. The neatest thing about story mode as far as I am concerned? Memoclips. As you progress through the game you earn memories after important events, called memoclips. When you fall in battle during your adventure, instead of dying, you are taken to a screen that allows you to select from whatever memoclips you have acquired. Like any fighting anime, when Naruto falls, he uses memories of his past to inspire him to go on. Depending on the memoclip you choose, you'll have a certain number of seconds to tap the A button to recover power. It's such a simple little mechanic, but it adds to the anime-feel of the game tremendously.
The fighting game portion of Rise of the Ninja is relatively simple. There are only eleven characters to choose from, with buttons for vertical attacks, horizontal attacks, blocking, jumping, and grabbing. What sets it apart from other fighting games is the special moves, known as jitsus. Rather than just using a combinations of buttons to unleash a jitsu, players must hold down the left trigger, standing completely still until their power reaches the target intensity, indicated by a sort of ring power meter dealie bob on the screen. If you are successful, your character launches into their particular jitsu, which acts as sort of a mini-game. For instance, when Naruto performs the Shadow Clone jitsu, he inputs a button combination. If his opponent matches the button for any particular part of the move, the damage is negated and Naruto misses. While jitsus are extremely power, standing still and charging one up leaves you very open to attack. Thanks to the simplicity of the battle system, characters animate as smoothly online as they do offline, but trust me...online is where it's at. Specifically the Forest of Death Tournament, which unlike regular fighting tournaments is always open. A persistent world fighting tournament? Once you enter the tournament, you have to win two consecutive matches to enter the Tower of Doom. Win three more matches and you are a champion, taking on opponent after opponent until you fall, all the while gaining points that reflect on your score in the leaderboards. You can of course just play one match against a random opponent for a quick online fix, but the tournament mode is so much more fulfilling, assuming you win. I am not a winner. *sniffs*
Super Sexy Jitsu
I really didn't think I would enjoy Naruto: Rise of the Ninja this much. I expected a passable fighting game with a forgettable story mode tacked on, but what I ended up with was so much more. Now I've got to run out to GameStop and beat up that cashier that laughed at me for buying it.