The over-excitable Ninja boy is now in 3D.
Generally speaking, Naruto games get a bit of a bad rap. There have been a fair few of them that have been released outside of Japan, where the Naruto Manga and Anime series began and still maintain a huge following, of various different types from different publishers. The problems always seem to be that, although the fans are kept happy with good storylines and the appearances of their favorite characters, the gameplay doesn’t do anything to entice newcomers into the world of the orange-haired Ninja boy. It is not that they are all bad games, just that they seem to be under appreciated by the general gaming populace.
But now we have the first Naruto game for the 3DS, from 505 Games. Being on the fledgling handheld, I would imagine that the publishers hope to take advantage of the smaller library of games to build an increased interest in the characters and their world of games. But can the gameplay measure up and offer something that will interest all gamers, not just the fans of the series?
Straight off the bat, Naruto Shippuden 3D: The New Era starts by giving the fans something to get excited about – a good story. Whilst Naruto is out training with his master, a sequence which serves as a tutorial to get the player used to the controls and various moves, he is summoned back to the Hidden Leaf Village by Kakashi due to some kind of emergency. Upon arriving he discovers that the Hokage, the leader of the Ninja village, has declared a state of war against the other hidden Ninja villages and is acting uncharacteristically. As the story progresses, Naruto finds that other Kages are also behaving strangely and he comes to realise that foul play is afoot.
The story is played out through a relatively small number of levels with the entire game only lasting around four-five hours for most gamers. The fact that this is a completely new storyline means that players not familiar with the world of Naruto will not feel lost within the story, although some prior knowledge of the characters will allow players to get more from it. But the story is very good and fits in well with the feel of the Naruto world, extending the universe rather than just feeling tacked on.
The gameplay itself consists of moving from left to right and fighting enemies for the most part. There is some platforming action and some truly difficult boss fights to deal with. But for the most part the player will run along, fight an enemy and then move on to the next. There are various pick ups to collect along the way, such as scrolls and health kits. The scrolls can be collected and then spent in between levels in the Ninja Dojo on increasing overall health levels, damage from attacks or even back-up characters (more on which in a minute). There are also medals to be found in the levels that can also be spent on new moves or power-ups.
The back-up characters are an interesting way to bring in some of the supporting cast of Naruto characters. Before each level the player can choose which three they wish to take with them and they each can be summoned with a quick press of a button. Once summoned, each character provides a different type of support, such as an attack or destroying scenery allowing the player to access a new area.
Every so often through the levels, the player will come across a quick-time event that will require the player to take advantage of the 3DS’ gyroscope function and move the 3DS in a required way. To be honest, whilst these events added some variety to the gameplay, I found that moving the 3DS was a bit hit and miss, with my movements sometimes not being picked up at all and the event being failed. This can be frustrating, but thankfully these events don’t come up too often.
The controls are all quite well organised, with the circle pad used for movement and the face buttons controlling jumping, attacking, projectiles and a special move. The D-pad allows the player to summon back-up characters, who can also be summoned from the touch screen, or enter Sage mode. Sage mode allows Naruto to become even more powerful for a short while and has to be charged at small temples that can be found throughout the levels.
Once each level has been completed the player can replay the level in challenge mode. The player will be challenged to complete the level as quickly as possible under certain conditions. The player will then be rated and awarded extra medals.
Another feature that looked interesting was the Sharingan code scanner. the idea is that the player will find Sharingan codes, either on the official website or handed out through various retailers, that would allow the player to unlock new back-up characters. Sadly, after much searching of the Internet, I have yet to find a single one of these codes, even on the 505 Games website, and thus I am unable to judge how well they work.
From a visual and audio point of view, there is not much to complain about. Through the actual gameplay, things look good, the backdrops are nice and the sprites are well animated. The cut-scenes are outstanding and look as if they have come straight out of the animated series. The lack of voice work in the game is a shame, but the awesome soundtrack more than makes up for the missing voices. Of course, one of the main features of a 3D Naruto game should be the 3D effect, but it has to be said that in this area the game is a bit of a let down. Turning up the 3D effect really doesn’t have much of an effect at all and most players will not be missing anything by just keeping the 3D turned off.
Other downsides of the game are the repetitiveness of the gameplay, which really doesn’t vary throughout the game, and the surprisingly high level of difficulty. This last point may not be a problem for some, especially considering the games overall length, but even the boss battle from the tutorial is set at a high level and coming up against such difficulty that early in the game will serve to put some gamers off completely.
The gameplay in Naruto Shippuden 3D may suffer from a high level of difficulty and be somewhat repetitive, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. However, the problem still remains that the gameplay doesn’t offer enough to encourage non-Naruto fans to give the game a try. Fans will get a lot from the unique story, appearance of favorite characters and the games’ overall look and sound. But if you are not a fan, you may well be left feeling bemused as to what all of the fuss is about.