Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive Review
Everyone has a favorite brawler. In the ‘90s, they were a hot commodity–thanks, in part, to Streets of Rage. Final Fight, X-Men, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were just a few of the classics. They quickly became the games we couldn’t wait to own.
Today, it’s different story. We still have our favorite brawlers and hack-n-slash games, but playing the competition is no better than moving heavy furniture or watching paint dry. Sadly, Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive falls within the latter category. With clunky controls, generic gameplay, repetitive combat, easy enemies, and multiplayer features that require too many systems and too many UMDs, Kizuna Drive is quite a disappointment.
On the surface, Kizuna Drive shows a lot of promise. The massive cast alone is enough to boast about. Four warriors simultaneously placed into battle, solo players are informed that they can take advantage of an AI crew, while multi-players can investigate the team-based gameplay. On paper, these features are enough to excite any Naruto fan. In execution, however, the game is anything but thrilling.
It all starts with the combat. Kizuna Drive’s attack system is built with one button in mind: the circle button. Sure, you can throw toss in the triangle button for a special attack that will consume your chakra meter, but the majority of the game can be won by pounding a single button.
As an arena fighting game, players aren’t given much chance to explore. Instead, they are dropped into a narrow environment that’s surrounded by invisible walls, tempting players with backgrounds they can't access. This technique has been used in games for years, but it seems especially damaging in Kizuna Drive. While players can evade attacks with the press of the X button, they will constantly feel confined. Players must battle even if they aren’t ready, dashing any chance for an effective strategy.
Let’s ponder that thought for a moment. Kizuna Drive is a fighting game. When players can’t form a gameplay strategy, the genre fails. We’ve seen this time and time again with the fall of major franchises, the decline of Tekken and SoulCalibur, and the near death of Street Fighter before its retro revival. Even Dynasty Warriors learned this lesson (and it’s about time given the number of lousy PS2 sequels and offshoots that were released).
Circle-circle-circle is not a combo system. The developers may call it that. The press releases may confirm it. But the reality is, anyone can press the same button three times in a row. Simplicity may be a great way to sell car insurance to cavemen, but it's not a great way to sell fighting games to gamers.
Kizuna Drive isn’t just a disappointing fighting game. It's also a lackluster chapter in the perennial Naruto saga. The characters may look familiar, but with stiff character movements and other animation anomalies, the game doesn’t quite feel like it belongs to the same franchise. Rather, it feels like a game that was made for people who have never played a brawler or a fighting game before. Considering that Mortal Kombat and Smash Bros. helped spread the genre to new audiences, you’re not likely to find many gamers that fit that criteria. To make matters worse, Naruto’s own history with video games lies within the fighting genre and includes PS2 and Nintendo Wii offerings that are far more compelling than Kizuna Drive.
What about the over-hyped multiplayer content? Kizuna Drive might offer the goods, but you won't get to enjoy them since the game requires four PSP systems and four UMDs for the full experience. Unless your friends are Naruto enthusiasts with PSPs, you'll never get to play the co-op content that Kizuna Drive offers.
The game may have been better suited for PlayStation 3. While the demographics of the system are not in Naruto’s favor, licensing agreements currently prevent the game from appearing on the system where it truly belongs: the Nintendo Wii. But not even the Wii (which has a large audience and gamers with low expectations for third-party releases) could have made Kizuna Drive a killer gaming experience.