previews\ May 29, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja - PS2 - Preview

Innovation can be found in the most unusual places. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is another side-scrolling fighting game based on an anime property. It's another fighter that uses cel-shading graphics, and another that attempts to cram most of its attacks into a single button.

Despite the familiarity, the game also has an interesting twist that makes the experience much more dynamic: multi-layered levels. In Mortal Kombat 3 players could uppercut (either within a combo or with one hard, standalone hit) their opponents into an entirely different fighting location. If you were fighting in a dungeon, an uppercut would take the battle to the streets. Naruto has its own clever take on multiple layers, and multiple environments. 


Rather than being able to move in and out of the environment with an evasion move, and rather than being able to side-step for a semi-3D appearance, Naruto lets you teleport (Dragonball Z-style!) to and from two points on every stage. The graphics are 3D with cel-shaded characters, and the environments have depth with an interesting cartoon aesthetic. You start out close to the screen; teleporting takes you deeper within it.

Words don't really do it justice. Prior to playing Naruto I heard all about the game from Localization Manager Brian Glazebrook. Though his revelations were intriguing, I could not comprehend the brilliance of these levels.

The benefit of teleporting to different points in the level is that it gives you a way to escape. Or to plan an attack. Or to attack from afar. Or to do one of several other things that add to the game's versatility. Projectile attacks have a targeting system built in and will travel to your opponent even if he or she is not standing nearby. It's a very cool and unique change to the standard fighting formula. And it's done with some of the best 3D cel-shading effects found in 2D fighter.

Teleporting isn't just for level navigation. It can also be used in the way Goku and Gohan use it to sneak up behind their opponents and bash 'em in the head. It can also be used as a counterattack to evade a teleport assault, and may be repeated until someone is fast enough to complete the move and hit their opponent before he or she can escape. The camera angles follow Dragonball Z's style.


Better still, you'll also be given the opportunity to warp to a completely different level. This seems to occur at random, once or twice during every battle. The choice is given to only one player, who can decide to stay or leave. Leaving the environment takes you to a land completely different from the one you were fighting in. It has its own layers, its own projectile pick-ups, and a few destructible and/or interactive environment elements. Trees, for example, maybe climbed in one stage. They bounce and sway as trees should, but the cel-shaded graphics mask the effect in something that's distinctly anime. It looks as realistic as any object can in a cartoon world. These visuals are entertaining and stand out from the pack, keeping your eyes satisfied while your thumbs pound away at your opponents.

And pound away they will...with one button. Naruto uses just one attack button: circle. It sounds strange and could get repetitive, but at this stage in the game it has made for a surprisingly quick and easy experience. Attacking can be as easy as pushing that single button, or it can be as complex as pushing it repeatedly with a D-pad motion thrown in. Rolling motions didn't seem as effective as pushing up, down, left or right in conjunction with feverish circle-tapping.


The playable lineup includes Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Rock Lee, Shikamaru, and several others from the show. Comic book-style animated sequences help build the story, with individual pieces coming to life on every page. It’s another interesting effect that corresponds to the stage backgrounds and character effects. 

Kicking and screaming its way into stores this summer, Naruto is gunning for more than fans of the anime series – it wants to keep hardcore fighting enthusiasts from ever having to see the sun. Dangerous UV rays or a game that lets me vie for the title of “Ultimate Ninja?” The choice is easy, and obvious.

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