Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 (Nintendo DS)

narutocoverNaruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2
Developer: Takura Tomy
Publisher: TOMY
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: 09/15/2009

This is now my fourth Naruto review that I’ve done for DHGF. The funny thing is that I still haven’t reviewed two games in the same series yet. I’ve done a fighter on the PSP, a RPG on the DS, an action game on the DS, and now a fighting game on the DS.

Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 is the follow up up to the ambitious fighter from early last year. TOMY has once again traded in the younger shinobi for their matured models, and in fact more than doubled the playable characters as well as added a few modes.

Still, a 3D fighter on the DS is a challenging task to take. Last year’s attempt wasn’t half bad, but lacked in terms of content and was a bit sluggish. With some tweaks, they’re hoping this one can get it right.

So how did it turn out?

Story/Modes

Normally in Naruto reviews, this is the section where I lament on how the plot from the show is butchered and left for dead. Certainly, the first section of ND2 started out that way. The game covers the first two story arcs of Shippuden. You have the Gaara retrieval arc and the Orochimauru hideout infiltration. When it comes to Gaara’s retrieval, we saw that covered in Ninja Council 4 earlier this year. Here, that entire plot is covered in maybe a page’s worth of text and a couple of battles. However, once you’ve fought Sasori, the game takes a dramatic change for the better. There are character interactions and conversations that start to come close to those in the show. Eighty percent of the plot is in that second arc. As a retelling, it does a much better job than its DS predecessors.

After you finish Story Mode, you’ll unlock Quest Mode, which the publisher has been touting as a major feature in the game. In this mode, you’ll explore randomly generated dungeons whilst looking for the exit and fighting the occasional bosses. You can only use one of a small percentage of the game’s fighters, but they level up, which is unique to this mode. However, the maps are all featureless bores and it really amounts to you running around in circles and fighting random battle after random battle. There’s no plot, equipment, or customization here. The levels you earn don’t carry over to any other mode, and replaying this mode will start you off horribly overpowered. The best thing about the mode is that you can focus on specific characters in order to get better with them.

The other single player modes available are pretty standard fare. You can pick any character you have unlocked and then chose any opponent. You also have a survival mode where you can face an endless barrage of enemy opponents. This mode is actually more interesting due to one of the game mechanics. There are items on the touch screen that you can activate during battle to give you various effects. In Survival Mode, you need to budget these items for when you need them the most, as you only get a few new items after several levels. Also, most of the unlockable characters are unlocked here.

naruto1Wireless mode returns, allowing you to battle friends with a DS and a copy of the game. This will allow you to play only the one on one match type, but it should add some length to the proceedings. There isn’t any Wi-Fi in this iteration, which is a bit a bummer, but given what the game is trying to accomplish on the system, this is understandable.

Apart from that, you have the option to change difficulties. Its a pretty bare bones setup, but the Quest Mode and Survival Mode are both new to the series. The first game had even less, so at least its a step up. A practice mode would have gone a long way to help the score, but all in all this isn’t too bad for a 3D fighter on the DS.

Graphics

In order to try and get around the limitations of the DS, the developers have opted for a cell-shaded look. While the character models aren’t always clean, they at least bare a strong resemblance to their TV show counterparts. The colors are a bit drab, but for the most part that fits right in line.

Environments are hit and miss. The ground you fight on is often an ugly texture on top of a bland 3D model. The backgrounds range from bland to interesting, depending on the setting. My favorites are the ones with landmarks in the background, as they actually look pretty decent. Still, most of the work went into the characters and it shows.

What’s most impressive here is that the game runs smoothly. I noticed only one case of slowdown in my entire time with the game. That was in story mode, so I’m guessing it was just a loading problem for that section. Given that characters are moving quickly, vanishing and reappearing elsewhere, and occasionally using some sort of elemental attack, I figured it would have been a bit too much for the DS to handle sometimes, but this just wasn’t the case.

Its a bit fuzzy around the edges, but the technology at work here is impressive. If you’re expecting clean 2D sprites, you’ll be disappointed, but the game gets it done in the visuals department for the most part.

Audio

TOMY has been recycling the music in its Naruto games for a while now. The menu theme is pretty much the same thing they’ve used as the menu them for every Ninja Council game. For the other songs, its mostly generic high tempo music with a hint of Japanese flare. It fits, but it isn’t very interesting to listen to.

The game features several voice samples from the US cast throughout. (Sorry, no Japanese voices) They do a decent enough job, but it sounds tinny coming from the DS speakers. There’s an announcer who proclaims the winner after each fight as well, but he’s no SoulCalibur guy.

The sound effects are pretty standard as well. The only times we get something interesting are during the jutsu attacks. Sadly, these never change, so you’ll spend most of the game listening to the same punching and kicking sounds over and over again.

Its a pretty bland setup once again on the DS.

Gameplay

Apart from one or two things, this is as basic and simple a 3D fighter as I’ve seen in years. Battles are one on one and end when someone’s health drops to zero. You also have a chakra bar that slowly builds up as the action continues. It builds when you attack, defend and even a little when you’re taking damage from a combo. Only a few moves won’t recover chakra, so it ends up regenerating pretty generously.

naruto2Chakra is used for two things. First, when the meter is full, you can unleash your special attack by pressing the A button. If it hits, you’ll switch out to a cut scene of your character using his or her most damaging attack. These do different amounts of damage depending on what character you’re using, and each character only has one (apart from young Naruto). The move does a lot of damage, but it doesn’t guarantee you a win.

The other thing chakra is used for is the substitution jutsu. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other Naruto fighting games, but here it is the absolute law. By tapping the L button, you can spend some of your chakra and teleport directly behind your opponent. Generally, speaking, you’ll have at least one free shot before they can react, and if you time it right, you can launch off a large combo without them even having a chance. That is, of course, unless they use the substitution jutus as well. Then the tables are turned. What this means is that battles often become a tug of war of substitution jutsus. Not having enough chakra to use it usually means you’re going to take some hits. The mechanic ends up dominating the gameplay a bit much.

As for combat, you have a light attack and a heavy attack. You can string these together to form combos, but if you think it’ll be a solely button mashing affair, you might end up in trouble. Each character has a different combo list, so mashing the heavy attack button won’t always lead you into a powerful combo. You’ll need to explore with each character. There aren’t any special moves to worry about, but pressing either forward or backward when you’re attack will produce different attacks. A few characters even have a few moves that could be deemed special moves I guess. Sasuke uses his fireball jutsu and Naruto has one move that allows him to get behind his opponent for a possible two hit combo. (Which is extremely useful when you’re running low on chakra.) The big problem is that every character has one combo that is just better than any other. Since you’ve only got two buttons to worry about, it will be pretty easy to pull it off over and over again.

There’s also the R button, with blocks. Unlike most games these days, you don’t have to worry about high or low attacks. If you’re holding down the block button, you will block just about everything. I’ve only seen a few moves get by, but those tend to be the end of a combo, so it doesn’t overpower that character too much.

You can also jump and sidestep into the foreground and/or background. Neither of these is particularly useful. The block button and substitution jutsu are fare more useful in dodging attacks. There aren’t that many ranged attacks to deal with, and there aren’t special attacks for when you sidestep, so I didn’t see a reason to use it. I never even saw the computer do it. It feels like a vestigial feature from the beginning.

The last gameplay mechanic to mention is the items. On the touch screen are up to six items that you can tap to use during combat. I highly recommend just using your thumbs, as holding the stylus would make the game nearly unplayable. These items offer various effects. They can give you health or chakra boosts, increase your attack or defense, or possibly stop your opponent from using jutsu attacks for a while. Most of these are useful at some point, but the chakra and health boosts are the belle of the ball. If you’re playing a one on one battle, you shouldn’t lose with these items. Of course, nearly every mode has a recourse for this. In story and quest, you need to find new items on the map in order to replenish your stock. In survival, you’ll get new items only on occasion. It should be mentioned that the computer controlled opponents don’t get items, so properly using them is a huge boon in your favor.

It can feel a bit sluggish at times, but the controls work for the most part. The main thing going against the game is the lack of any technical prowess required to win. The simple combos, lack of depth, and the dependency on substitution jutus tend to create a less than exciting battle experience. Its pretty simple, mindless, and won’t entertain those used to fighters with at least some brain. Its not bad, but its far below average for what a fighting game should be.

Replayability

naruto3ND2 definitely gets a huge step on its predecessor when it comes to amount of content on the cartridge. You have well over thirty characters to chose from, and each has their own style of play. This is more than double the total number of fighters in the last game. Also, the two new modes offer several hours of additional content. Quest Mode is there for those looking to kill time. However, Survival Mode is where the bulk of your time will probably go. If you up the difficulty of the game, it becomes the most challenging thing you can do. The game keeps track of your best score with each player, and this is the best option for using most of the game’s roster.

None of the modes are particularly long. Without multiplayer, don’t expect this to be a game that sucks up too much of your time. Even still, this is a much better deal for your money than the first Ninja Destiny, so at least they’re going in the right direction.

Balance

Due to its button mashing nature, this game ends up being pretty easy. On normal difficulty, I lost only once. That happened during story mode after a long trek in which I used all of my items and had to face back to back opponents.

On hard, the game isn’t that much more difficult. The computer will block more often, and use that substitution jutsu like no tomorrow. Still, the only way you’ll have too much difficulty is if you don’t know how to use the basic mechanics of the game.

When it comes to balance between characters, there are some that are just better than others. Yamato has an attack that reaches almost the entire screen. Sakura is one of the only characters who can attack a downed opponent. (No low attacks, remember?) Naruto can teleport without the use of the substitution jutsu, albeit only as an attack. Meanwhile, Shikamaru is slow and cumbersome and Sasori is pretty much useless.

All told, once you know what you’re doing, its pretty easy to have your way with the game.

Originality

What we’ve got here is a sequel that only adds a couple of modes and some characters.

Of those two modes, survival is merely a staple of the genre that should have been added in the first game. Quest Mode isn’t all that different from other modes we’ve seen in other Naruto fighting games, let alone fighting games in general. Most games do it better as well.

If you’re looking for something new, look elsewhere.

Addictiveness

Matches tend to be pretty short here, so it can be real easy to play dozens of matches without realizing it. Story Mode is good for the plot and Survival is good for the challenge.

Even still, the fighting engine just isn’t good enough for veteran players or even newcomers to vest much into it. There aren’t very many other options on the DS, so if you really need a fighter on the go, this will probably give you just enough to keep you going.

Playing against another person will no doubt be the highlight for most people. But again, the way that fights tend to result in teleporting, button mashing frenzies can make it feel monotonous before long.

Appeal Factor

When it comes to fighting games for Naruto, there is a better option for nearly every system on the market. There even a Shippuden fighter available for the PS2.

naruto4For Naruto fans like myself, this game isn’t a must buy for that and many other reasons. Clash of Ninja Revolution 3 is coming to Wii in a few months, and Legends: Akatsuki Rising is coming out for the PSP next month. Both of these look pretty good at this point and ND2 just can’t compete in terms of presentation.

There’s also the problem of an over saturation of Naruto games. Ninja Council 4 came out only a couple months ago for the DS, and there were a few others that came out last year, including the first Ninja Destiny. At 30 dollars a pop, the cost is starting to add up.

Of course, this is a 3D fighter on the DS. Its a rare breed and may attract some attention for that reason alone.

Miscellaneous

I like this game, don’t get me wrong. However, I don’t think trying to bring it on the DS is the best idea. Instead, it would have served TOMY better to put more effort into the Ninja Council and Path of Ninja games that have been lacking. I say leave the fighting games to the bigger consoles.

Even still, this isn’t a half bad effort. They’ve created a function 3D fighting engine on a system that many thought wouldn’t be able to handle it. Now they’ve gotten comfortable enough to add some more modes. I’m hoping that if a Ninja Destiny 3 hit stores, they can knock it out of the park with some gameplay tweaks and a few new modes.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Good
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Below Average
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Very Poor
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjackNaruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 is a decent attempt at a 3D fighter on the DS. The problems mostly come in that it doesn’t offer enough in terms of modes, and that the combat system gets extremely monotonous fairly quickly. With some tweaks and an extra mode of two, I expect the next game in the series to be a pretty solid outing. Until then, this is for the hardcore Naruto fans only.

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