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Can We Put the New Back In Naruto?

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Posted by: Robert Workman

While it’s great to see some anime franchises thriving in a market outside of Japan, there’s still a question of how they’re thriving. For instance, the Dragon Ball games. For years, Atari has been pumping out fighting game after fighting game, and once the franchise ended up back in Namco’s corner, we expected something a little deeper. But, surprise, we ended up with Dragon Ball: Raging Blast, another game that, unsurprisingly, focuses on the fisticuffs that the franchise is known for, rather than giving something else a try.

Sadly, another franchise is slowly but surely falling into this rut – Naruto. The ninja-themed anime series, which has gained a following on Cartoon Network and has thrived with DVD releases ever since – is following a similar pattern, with all too recognizable fighting games that don’t deter from previous releases over the years. As a result, it’s running into the same formulaic problems that other fighting games suffer from – something that’s in dire need of a change.

Case in point. Over the past few years, Tomy has been publishing the Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution games for Wii, and, despite being moderately enjoyable in small spurts, the games don’t exactly differ that much from one another. You have the usual 3-D fighting tactics, counters, character stories and so forth. There’s nothing significantly different between the first Clash of Ninja Revolution game and the two that followed in its footsteps. Same could easily be said of Ubisoft’s two Naruto games (Clash of a Ninja and The Broken Bond) and Namco’s Ultimate Ninja Storm for PlayStation 3.

Not to say that we don’t expect fighting from a franchise like this. That would just be silly. Most of the time in episodes of the anime, characters are clashing in one form or another over some kind of indifference, or during a session of spontaneous training. However, the games themselves have run afoul of formula, with very little reason to keep you fighting. With mundane storylines that follow the strict rule of the anime (rather than branching out and giving fans new territory to cover), they’ve run into turf that’s all too familiar, rather than branching out with something new and unique that would impress folks outside of the rabid fan base.

And it doesn’t look like that formula is changing anytime soon. Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, due for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this fall, looks to cover most of the same territory as the first game did, with ridiculous battles and a storyline that barely holds together. Likewise, Atlus is publishing Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles for Wii, which, while taking a slight bit more focus on Naruto and his right hand girl Sakura, holds the same fighting tactics that we’ve gotten used to in the Clash of Ninja Revolution games.

Like we said, fans will like this, but how many times must they put up with the same old thing? It’s about time that the Naruto games took a fresh perspective and tried something a little bit new. Granted, it needs to be a formula that works, and not one that goes so far off the mark that the game isn’t fun anymore. The fighting should remain intact, but a new engine should be considered, so you actually feel like you’re more in control of your combatant, rather than unleashing ridiculous combos with simple taps of the button.

So, how to do that, then? Simple. We have a suggestion that we feel would do the franchise some good, and we’re sure that some of you would agree with it. The best way to liven up the Naruto franchise is to hand it to someone who knows how to make a refreshing fighting game, rather than the same old 3-D fighting experience. We’re talking, of course, about Capcom.

Think about it. Over the years, Capcom has made some of the best 2-D and 3-D fighting games in the business, including Street Fighter IV and the upcoming Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. With them at the helm of the Naruto franchise, it would be invigorated in ways that not even the original creators of the anime could possibly imagine. Players unleashing unheard-of combos, executing chakra attacks in super move fashion, and playing with well-animated characters in a setting that they would keep coming back to…it simply makes sense. Granted, Namco isn’t likely to hand over the rights anytime soon, so it’s looking more like a pipe dream than an actuality. Still, one can dream, can’t they?

That's not to say that Atlus and Namco can't turn the Naruto franchise back around. It wouldn't hurt to implement some new ideas in both series. For instance, how about hiring the writers of the series to create a whole new storyline, one that would make anime fans excited to play a Naruto game again? For that matter, simplifying the fighting engine wouldn't be a bad thing either. Running around in 3-D takes too much time. It should be more like a Tekken or Virtua Fighter-style game, with a small series of fighting arenas and no ridiculous-looking running animations. We know that the characters in Naruto are supposed to be energetic, but they're also supposed to be fighters, not athletes. Let's get to the combat already.

Maybe the games won't change over time, or maybe they will. But something needs to be done before the series runs into the same old, same old, and interest wanes. Both Namco and Atlus are sitting on a gold mine, and all they need is a pick axe to dig away at it -- instead of a plastic spoon. C'mon, guys, cut deep with your chakra.

Robert Workman is a long-time veteran of the video game industry. He's written for several websites, including AOL GameDaily, Gameplaybook and Segadojo. He can also outdrink you any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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