The ever-popular “Naruto” has a lot of games out there, and a lot more coming, but they’re all more or less the same: simplified fighting games with the large cast of the anime to play as or against. It’s surprising, then, that “Naruto: Ninja Council 3” for the Nintendo DS is such a mess, while “Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2” for the PlayStation 2 is a great blend of the show and the fighting-game genre.
“Ninja Council 3” is more of a platformer than a fighting game, leaving players with a tiny character on the DS’s top screen and an overly large scrolling stage on which to try to find the objective. Jumping is imprecise, basic attacks have lag, special attacks never connect (and are useless anyway) and missions are either impossible (try defeating 15 bats while jumping and attacking, moves that are only made worse when trying to do them together) or pointlessly dull (too many “break objects to find X number of random items” missions). On the rare occasion of facing off against another ninja, the game doesn’t get any better. With a PSP “Naruto” game coming soon that looks to faithfully bring the action to a portable system, there’s absolutely no reason to play this game.
“Ultimate Ninja 2,” on the other hand, does almost everything right: super-fast action, responsive controls, superb cell-shaded graphics (the only PS2 game so far that doesn’t look overly pixilated when played on a large screen through the PS3) and a single-player quest mode that includes a multi-part storyline, optional missions and character customization. More than 30 characters are available once everything is unlocked, and players even have the option to use characters customized through the quest mode during two-player matches.
The control scheme is simple, with only one button for attacks and one to activate secret techniques, but there is a surprising variety of moves that can still be achieved. More complex controls and combos would only get in the way of the blistering speed of each match. As in the first “Ultimate Ninja,” the secret techniques are shown in full cinematic fashion, with one of three types of mini-games determining the power of the attack (Hint: To succeed at rotating the analog stick fast enough, just flick both sticks up and down in opposite directions). Missions are now separate from the quest storyline, and battles during both have a variety of different conditions placed on them besides just beating the opponent, such as winning with a certain move or with a set amount of health or chakra remaining. Quest mode has extreme spikes in difficulty early on, so missions should be done whenever possible to upgrade characters, since quests are done in continuous chapters without the ability to go back to missions once one is started. Even then, some matches will just take repeated attempts and lightning reflexes to achieve the victory conditions.
There are still some annoyances – like characters repeating the same phrases over and over whenever they do the same moves – but the simple controls and deep single-player mode put “Ultimate Ninja 2” a notch or two above most fighting games.