It is rather surprising that the Naruto licence has been lucky enough to land in the hands of Ubisoft Montreal. However it is not surprising in the least that Ubisoft Montreal have done a fantastic job, bringing the ninja themed cartoon series to Xbox 360 in style.
As previously detailed in our hands-on preview, the Naruto series revolves around Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja that is neglected by the majority of his village. Naruto simply wants recognition and dreams to one day become the village Hokage, or leader of the city. Starting out from the very beginning of his adventures you will control Naruto through the first 80 episodes of his adventures, which covers many milestone encounters and events. However, newcomers to the franchise should not be worried as the wealth of information surrounding Naruto and his life is explained in the introduction and throughout the story with a mix of in-game and original anime cut-scenes.
Stepping into the shoes of Naruto as he begins his adventures, you learn that the entire village dislikes you due to a hidden secret surrounding your past. Thankfully, right off the bat you begin to change people’s opinions of you and increase your popularity in the village of Konoha (the village in which the series takes place). Ubisoft has done a fantastic job at representing the different emotions of the series by representing the characters emotions drastically in the typical anime fashion. Naruto will begin the game with his head down and hands in his pocket, as villagers will outright jump into the air with anger merely for him existing.
Instead of having a tutorial for the control scheme and gameplay, you will be taught as you progress through the storyline. Thankfully you are taught one feature at a time and the learning curve is designed for players of all ages. When the entire control scheme opens up, you will soon find that the game allows for some rather complex fighting mechanics that reward well timed attacked and counters, rather than simple button bashing.
You will also experience the unique genre of Naruto: Rise of a Ninja, as the game is not quite any genre specifically. The game’s genre can best be described as a fighting action-adventure game with RPG elements. Whilst you may initially get the impression that the game has been crammed with too many features, it soon becomes apparent that they have all been designed with quality in mind and fit together well. The adventure action part of the game unlocks the additional RPG choices that will be used in the fighting portion on the game. All in all, Ubisoft Montreal has done a fantastic job to pack such a varied choice of gameplay components into a single title.
The fighting component specifically is extremely enjoyable and provides the basis of the multiplayer and online feature, as well as a large portion of the single player experience. The controls in the game are simple to understand but the varied character combination attacks and the need for precision reactions allow for skilful play. Strafing with the analogue stick, jumping with the A button and blocking with the B button, the majority of skill lies in avoiding attacks. One particularly interesting feature is the ‘Substitution Jutsu’. Which when used, this ability teleports you behind the enemy, leaving only a lifeless wooden log in your original location. This however requires precision timing, needing you to block the enemy attack at the moment of impact. Moving onto assault, the X and Y buttons are used for attacks, which when used in certain combinations can either cause your enemy to take high damage, be knocked into the air or thrown onto the ground, giving enough time to pull off one of the signature moves that take time.
Signature ‘Jutsu’ attacks, being one of the popular aspects of the Naruto series, are extremely enjoyable to pull off or even defend against. Using the shoulder button you will be required to complete a sequence of analogue movements in order to complete a ‘seal’. This will then begin your ‘Jutsu’ ability, allowing you to release the ‘seal’ at the right level, in order to determine the level of the ability. If you fail to release the ‘seal’ at the correct time you will simply fail the attack, leave yourself open and waste a large majority of your ‘chakra’ (basically, the amount of power required to perform a ‘Jutsu’ ability). During an intense battle you will need to distract your opponent, most likely by a knock down ability, in order to perform the ‘seal’. However if you manage to perform a complete ‘seal’ and unleash a ‘Jutsu’ ability, it could very well change the tide of a battle. Of course that is if your enemy does not defend your attack!
Online is where the games fighting component truly comes to life as competition is fast and furious, providing the platform for some of the most competitive gameplay you will find on Xbox Live. Unlike most fighting games for the Xbox 360, lag is not much of an issue and finding an opponent is both fast and easy. You can either join a lobby with a single opponent, fighting for an optional amount of games whilst also allowing you to change stage and character or you can take a step into the ‘Forest of Death’ mode. This mode requires that you work your way up through a series of challenges, eventually being teamed against the best of the best. This mode is not only enjoyable and a welcome addition to the often repetitive nature of the genre, but is also relentless in choosing opponents that truly challenge your abilities.
By now you would already have noticed that the graphics are simply stunning. Ubisoft Montreal have demonstrated just how fantastic cel-shaded graphics can look, without a doubt standing as one of the best cel-shaded titles to be released. Fans of the series will instantly recognise aspects of the game, from the environments to the characters, as it is clear the developers have done their research. As previously mentioned the character emotion is beautifully portrayed, especially with certain characters that have clear personalities, such as Gaara or Sasuke. The body language, stance, fighting style and animation all convey their arrogance and confidence perfectly. The quality of graphics even extends to simple environmental elements such as swaying grass and shifting shadows. All in all, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja is a fantastic graphically representation of how the TV series would look in full 3D.
This level of quality continues over to the audio aspect of the game, as the game once again closely resembles what you would expect from the TV series. The famous songs are strewn throughout the game and the general character phrases and sound effects have been reproduced well. The only issue with the games audio would be the lack of original Japanese voice acting. Thankfully, however, Ubisoft have promised a soon to be released patch which will feature the Japanese audio for the entire game. Something of which, fans of the series are no doubt eagerly awaiting.
It is remarkable how much hard work has been put into a game that will generally only appeal to fans of the original subject matter. Anyone that is not a fan of the series but is interested in the style of gameplay should rest assured, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja is fantastic. Whilst the game is short and the style of gameplay can become repetitive, you will easily find hours of enjoyment to make it easily worthwhile.