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Naruto: Ninja Council 2 Review

Developer: Aspect Digital Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: October 10, 2006 Also On: None

Ninjas are a very common theme in video games, whether licensed or not. You have Ninja Gaiden, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and many others too numerous to name. Among these one of the later entries is Naruto, a series of licensed games that is based, to the best of my knowledge, on a Japanese anime. I claim no knowledge of the Naruto universe beyond that which is presented in the game which I am presently reviewing, Naruto: Ninja Council 2, and I ask that you keep that fact in mind as you read this review.

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Graphically, Ninja Council 2 isn’t too bad. The characters and environments are reasonably well detailed, although you aren’t going to see anything that pushed the GBA’s hardware to its limits here. The special effects of scrolls and jutsu moves are okay, but aren’t awe-inspiring by any means and sometimes fail to convey the element of great power that they are meant to. Still, there is nothing bad enough about the graphics to deserve negative mention.

So far as sound is concerned, the sound effects are a typical generic set, neither overwhelmingly good nor pathetically bad. The music ranges from some themes which are semi-memorable to some which are achingly repetitive, short, and annoying, with many falling somewhere in between those two extremes. As is the norm for GBA titles, cutscenes flow through the use of text boxes rather than voice acting, but that’s so common that it’s not worth complaining about in this case. The text isn’t the type that would be significantly helped by voice acting anyway, but is simply just enough to progress the plot to explain the purpose of the next level. Overall, I have no major complaints about the sound, but some elements of it certainly could have been done better.

In terms of gameplay, this game seems to have more depth than it really has. It is essentially a combination 2D platformer and beat-em-up, containing sections which fall into each category. For the platformer sections, the characters have the ability to walk, run, jump, double jump, and also to teleport straight up. These abilities carry over into the battle sections just as the abilities meant for the battle sections are available for the platformer sections, but most of the platformer sections rely on the jumping, with the teleporting occasionally coming into play as well.

Overall, there’s little to the platforming in this game that hasn’t been seen before: moving platforms, blocks that fall and then slowly rise again, and fire chains that turn on and off, among other things. These sections tend not to be particularly difficult for the most part, coming across as fairly simple in most cases. Rare is the occurrence where you’d have to actually think too hard about how to get by something. Even in the few sections in which you are timed, you are given more than ample time to get through them if you remember to run whenever possible.

It’s the battle sections where the manual really throws you for a loop though. Your characters have all sorts of battle capabilities, which vary slightly in execution depending on which character you’re using. They have a punch combo, a jump attack, and a dash attack to start off with. In addition to this, you can pick up projectiles to throw or scrolls to use on your enemies. If all of this isn’t enough for you, each character also has three unique jutsu moves that they can use on their opponents, but these cost a bit of health to use. On the defensive end, your characters can block, they can dodge backward, or they also have the capability of teleporting behind the nearest enemy, an ability which can be particularly useful for boss battles.

So why do I say that the manual will throw the player for a loop? Simply put, because most of this stuff is hardly ever necessary. You can get through most of the battle sections effectively by approaching enemies and using your punch combo on them, or, as I preferred, to avoid getting hit you can abuse jump attacks and use punch combos when the opportunity presents itself. You will never be in a position where you have to sacrifice life to use a jutsu move, and the scrolls and projectiles are nice to have, but the enemies in this game aren’t intelligent enough for the most part for their use to be necessary, or to even make things significantly easier. Still, the variety can provide a relief to the repetitive nature that the battle system would otherwise have.

So sadly, neither the platforming sections nor the battle sections are particularly difficult. However, it gets worse. There are three playable characters in this game: Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. The differences between the three are minimal, but are extant, although they primarily lie in jutsu style and speed/power balance, and are otherwise purely cosmetic.

The problem here is this: each character has his or her own lifebar, and the characters can usually be swapped at will with you losing only if all three characters are completely defeated, which, in my play through of the game, never happened. Each character has a four-tier color-coded lifebar, which is, in my opinion, too much if each character is going to have his or her own. They should either each have one lifebar, or they should all share one four-tier lifebar. With each of them having his or her own four-tier lifebar, it makes an already easy game that much easier.

This problem is alleviated in some levels though by the game giving the stipulation that you can’t change characters. There are a few such levels, but these levels usually tend to lessen the already low difficulty in compensation for the lack of ability to change characters. Still, these levels force you to be able to use all three of the playable characters effectively and thus enhance the character use balance.

In terms of challenge though, the only place where you are likely to find it is in the boss battles, and that is mostly due to the fact that the bosses tend to teleport away a lot, thus making it hard for you to catch them in a situation where you can just wail on them mercilessly for a significant period of time. Between the use of jump attacks and use of the teleport behind the enemy move, however, even these are not particularly difficult, especially since you usually have all three characters in these and can switch if one gets significantly weakened. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t bosses have more energy than the characters being used by the player or, at the very least, a similar amount? Yet, with the player having three characters to use, the bosses generally have roughly a third of the total lifebar of the player’s characters.

And yet, despite all this nagging that I have done at the game, the fact still remains that this game is fairly entertaining. It may be easy, and it is certainly short, clocking in at under two hours if you play through it normally, but it is entertaining while it lasts. And, in order to try to add replay value to the main game, the game ranks you after each level, and you can go back to try to improve your rank by playing through it again after you beat it, although I wasn’t able to find a level select option to use to make this easier, so it probably isn’t worth doing.

In addition to this main game, the developers threw in two multiplayer modes as well. The Co-op mode is exactly what it sounds like, playing through the game with two people. I have nobody to play the game with me, but, from what it says in the manual, I think each player picks a character and the third character sits out. There is also the restriction that scrolls can be collected, but not used, but still, the addition of a second player is likely to make this game easier, not harder.

The other multiplayer mode is a vs. mode. Sadly, this mode also requires multiple players, although it can accommodate anywhere from two to four of them. Once again, I had nobody to play this mode with either, but, assuming that the battle engine in this mode is the same as that in the main game, this isn’t likely to become your fighting game of choice on the GBA.

What then is my recommendation? You’re not likely to find too many other people who have this game, and the multiplayer options do require a game cart for each player. Therefore, I would have to say that this game isn’t worth buying on the strength of the single-player mode alone, so unless you have friends who are also going to get this game so you have somebody to face in the battle mode, this is probably something that you should pass on, at least until you can get it fairly cheap.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 5
Replay Value/Game Length: 5
Final: 5.9
Written by Martin Review Guide