The annoying teenage Ninja is back for some more brawling.
The Naruto games are somewhat of a bitter sweet pill for me. Being a long time fan of the Anime and Manga series, playing a video game within the Naruto universe is something that I constantly look forward to. The first Naruto game that I played was Rise of a Ninja, which thoroughly impressed and kept me entertained for a long time. But since then, I have just not been able to find a Naruto game that scratched my Hidden Leaf Village itch, if you know what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the previous games have been alright. But they all concentrate, in my mind at least, too much on the brawling and not enough on the adventure itself. Kizuna Drive, the latest PSP incarnation from Namco Bandai follows this tradition by presenting a team-based arena brawler within the Naruto universe. Okay, so it may not be exactly to my taste, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be good and offer some interesting ideas.
The story, which has been scripted especially for this game, revolves around the Hidden Dream Village, another village that trains it’s own Ninja in a similar manner to Naruto’s own Hidden Leaf Village. Anyway, the Hidden Dream Village is attacked with all evidence pointing to the Hidden Leaf Village being behind it. This leads to all out war between the two villages and it is up to Naruto and chums to fight their way through to the truth and find out who attacked the Hidden Dream Village and why. It is the kind of story that we have all seen before within the Naruto universe and is quite enjoyable.
The cut-scenes that move the story along are, as expected, lovely to watch and the overall visuals look incredibly good on the PSP screen. Animation of all the characters can be a little jarring at times, but the backdrops and the look of the huge number of different characters are all pleasant.
Speaking of characters, where would a Naruto game be without a massive roster of playable characters from the show. Pretty much anyone who is of any importance in the Naruto universe is in the game. This is made all the more important due to the team-based nature of the gameplay.
Anyone who watches the Anime or reads the Manga will know that it is very rare for Naruto to go off on missions by himself. They generally work in teams, usually with three young Ninjas and an older, mentor type. This idea has been taken on within the game, both in the main story and the free missions that the player can work through, and sees the player working within a team of four characters. Different characters obviously have their different moves, but also can have different roles to play during the missions, such as the power houses, healing types and the support Ninjas.
The team of four gameplay screams out for co-op and is, by all accounts, a lot of fun with four human players. The sad thing is that there is only ad-hoc mode available which means that you will need to get four people together, each with their PSP and their own copy of the game in order to really enjoy this. That’s a pretty tall order by any stretch of the imagination. So instead, most players will have to make do with a team consisting of themselves and three AI ninjas. This wouldn’t be too bad if the AI were even slightly competent. The player has to give orders to the AI and, to be honest, most of the time they completely ignore them. Without the orders they are about as much use as a bowl of Ramen in a fight.
And fighting is, after all, what the game is all about. Specifically, it is about hitting that circle button over and over again. Sure, you can pull a dodge, grab and throw, or even whip up some truly impressive Jutsu moves. But the majority of the game will be spent hitting that circle button as the player jumps from one arena-based conflict to another. One highlight is, upon reducing an enemy to a stunned state, the player can initiate a move that sees the enemy being pounded between the four Ninjas before finishing him off. This move is quite impressive but requires good timing otherwise the player themselves can take damage.
The story mode begins with a rather lengthy tutorial mission that allows the player to get to grips with the various different moves, the different positions that the player needs to be in to pull off certain moves (something which can be quite difficult in the heat of battle) and the basics of movement, camera control etc. Completing missions will wield rewards, such as special scrolls that can be used to improve your team.
These improvements are much needed as the game does not hold back on the difficulty. Right from the start, things can be somewhat testing and only get more difficult when it comes to the epic boss battles. These can be a real test of patience as the player has to keep dodging and slowly whittle away at the bosses health for what seems like an eternity.
Kizuna Drive is a great game when playing with friends. But finding three friends with the game in the same place as you is a tall order. Which leaves the game as a slightly frustrating single player brawler, with support being offered only by an unimpressive AI. Not really ideal for the single player, and thus not recommended unless you have some PSP-wielding, Naruto-loving friends.