Inside Pulse 12

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Naruto vs Sasuke (Nintendo DS)

Naruto Shippuden: Naruto vs Sasuke
Publisher: Tomy
Developer: Takara Tomy
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 11/12/2010

Well here I am again with yet another Naruto game to review. I’m not complaining, really. I love the show and get enough enjoyment out of the games to justify the time spent playing them, especially the releases on the PSP and PS3 that I’ve played.

The DS, on the other hand? Not so much. I’ve reviewed several, from fighting games, to RPGs to straight up action games, and while they have a few upsides, they’re ultimately a let down. Last year, I reviewed Ninja Council 4 and I called it perhaps the best Naruto game on the DS. This game, as it turns out, is the next game in the Ninja Council series, despite dropping the name. That sounds like a pretty decent recipe for success to me.

So, does this game take the right steps forward, or is it yet another middling game in the Naruto franchise?

Story/Modes

Naruto vs Sasuke covers the second season of Shippuden. Basically, Team 7 is on a mission to intercept an Akatsuki spy working for Orochimaru and get information as to the location of Sasuke from him. With Kakashi out with an injury, Naruto and Sakura get a new team leader by the name of Yamato. Also, they’re given a fourth team member named Sai. The story basically covers from when you start meeting these characters all the way to a battle with Sasuke at the end.

The story follows the anime pretty closely, but that isn’t hard to do. Not much was happening in season two apart from a couple of nifty battles and bickering between new team members. The story is told through static screen shots and basic animations performed by the sprites on the top screen. It covers all of the notes you’d expect it to hit and ends on a drag just like the anime, and can safely be enjoyed by fans as a competent retelling.

Beyond story mode, you have two other modes to play around with. Free mode allows you to replay any level in the game at your leisure. You can’t find any collectibles or unlock bonus characters, but there are some advantages to playing here. There are a few playable characters that can only be used here, including Sasuke himself. Also, this is the mode to play if you want another shot at a boss fight as they can’t be replayed in the normal mode. You also have a basic multi-card wireless option that allows you to participate in one on one battles with friends. It keeps track of your wins and losses, but is otherwise completely passable thanks to the combat not lending itself to a fighting game type atmosphere.

The package is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the series. It doesn’t add anything new, but does its job competently, which is enough.

Graphics

Visually, I’d call this a step backwards.

The game is zoomed out from the previous entry. Sprites are smaller on the screen and have less detail. It’s not like you’ll mix up characters or anything, but there are a lot of times when all you’ll be able to see is a character’s eyes which is a shame. There are a number of enemies carried over from the last game, and they work roughly the same, though I did notice a number of new enemies that made a splash. When things get bigger, like during a battle with a giant spider, the game looks much better.

The backgrounds are pretty much the same. They’re faithful to the source material without ever really doing anything to astound you. They’re fine for what they are and look good for the most part. A few levels, such as Orochimaru’s lair, look better than the rest and stick out because of it.

The effects were the object of my highest praise for the last game, and I’ll say they did a good job here as well. The only issue, once again, is that everything is smaller, meaning it doesn’t have quite the same visual impact. There are still plenty of crazy light show moments to keep you entertained.

Audio

The music in this game is very hit or miss. The song that plays during the tile screen is pretty cool, and there are several tunes that are fun enough to listen to. Most are pretty boring however, making this a game that you can safely play with the sound turned off for the majority of its length. There is one downright awful track in the game. It’s the song that plays while you’re at the menu, and it never failed to make me skip through as fast as possible. I’m not kidding. The song caused me physical pain to listen to.

The rest of the audio package can be found in the sound effects. These are tinny for the most part and don’t do anything to impress. It is the standard suite of grunts and punches that any action fan will have become accustomed to over the years. There’s nothing bad about it or anything, but it isn’t notable.

Like I said, this is a game that doesn’t require the use of sound for you to get the full experience.

Gameplay

Naruto is about two things: jumping and fighting. Levels consist of you trying to get from start to finish whilst overcoming obstacles such as locked doors, spikes, and enemy ninjas. You’re given three characters to use that you can switch between on the fly. For the story, you’ll always need Naruto, but the other two slots can be filled by any combination of up to six other characters. You get Sakura, Sai, Yamato, Shikamaru, Neji, and Rock Lee. Add in the three characters you can use in the free mode, and this far surpasses the last game’s five character limit. Each character has differences in terms of speed and jumping ability. They also each have two jutsu attacks at their disposal. Each character has one move that helps them traverse locations or find hidden areas, such as Naruto’s shadow clone jutsu or Neji’s Byakugan. Lee doesn’t have such an ability and also can’t use ranged attacks, but he makes up for it by having the best melee attack and the greatest agility.

Beyond basic melee attacks, you actually have several options. Firstly, you can find ranged weapons such as shuriken and kunai in levels. Unlike the last game, these are easy to find and actually useful. You can collect them by battling enemies or smashing crates, but you can only have one type of weapon at a time. You also have two jutsu attacks that can be used by tapping them on the touch screen. These take up chakra, which can only be replenished with restorative items and ninja coins found during levels. If you tap on one of your other playable characters, you can use a team jutsu. These take a ton of chakra, but deal out the most damage (as well as look really cool).

Also like last game, you can equip a support character. There are about eight of these in the game, and each offers a unique effect. Rather than perform a special attack however, they provide buffs for you. For example, Ino heals you, Choji raises your strength, and Shino raises your defense. Unlike last time, playable characters can not be used as support characters and you only get one use unless you find headbands strewn across the levels. As such, support characters are rarely used outside of boss battles.

Speaking of which, boss battles run pretty much the same as well. You face off in a one on one or one on two battle against enemies. There is a boss battle at the end of every level. These guys have a ton of health, get grace periods after they get hit, and can use jutsu attacks as well. Boss fights as a whole are not fun. They almost always dodge your special attacks, deal more damage than you, and never run out of chakra. Ranged attacks do next to nothing in terms of damage, especially at the end. Thanks to the grace period they get, it is extremely difficult to land a combo. As such, these fights are long, grueling affairs that require you to jump through hoops just to make an impact.

I have two main problems with the game, outside of the boss fights of course. Firstly, the game is set up into chapters made up of two levels each. This in and of itself is all right, but if you die, you start back at the beginning of the chapter. Thus, if you die during the final boss fight, you have to replay the entire end section again. Also, health, chakra, and the number of support uses you have left carry from level to level. This makes it necessary to play extremely conservatively until you get to the boss of a chapter.

All told, running and exploring through levels is pretty fun. The levels are usually much bigger than they first appear and you can miss large sections on your first run through. It makes going back interesting. The combat has also been vastly improved thanks to ranged attacks being more useful and a greater number of enemies. Tomy addressed these problems well, but the setup is suspect and the boss fights are still a low point. Still, the overall experience is enjoyable.

Replayability

My first playthrough took about fifteen minutes shy of four hours. This is the standard length for this kind of game, but it is still disappointing. However, if you want to unlock everything, it will take multiple playthroughs of most of the levels. Also, you can replay levels to get better ranks if you want.

Then, there’s multiplayer and free mode. While the former isn’t likely to rob you of any of your time, the latter could easily sap a few hours out of you if you want to use the exclusive players such as Sasuke.

Overall, this game could reasonably offer a dedicated player somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to eight hours of play time. It isn’t much by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t nearly as bad as games like Kung Zhu.

Balance

There’s one thing that makes this game pretty darn easy. You have three characters that have to die before you lose. With plenty of healing items around, as well as the ability to use support characters with healing powers, you’ll be hard pressed to lose even one character outside some of the final boss fights. In fact, I didn’t even outright lose until the final boss fight and that was because I wasn’t prepared for it.

When it comes to unlocking everything, the game isn’t too hard. You merely need to explore. There are a couple scrolls that take some doing to find, but nothing is out of reach. The most trouble you’ll have is not having the right character to open a door or secret passage, in which case you’ll only need to play through the level again.

This is a pretty easy game when all is said and done.

Originality

From a genre standpoint, this game brings nothing new to the table. Action platformer is one of the oldest game types around at this point. It’s hard to come up with anything. This game offers the standard package you’d expect.

From a series standpoint, this is pretty much business as usual. The use of multiple characters was a staple of the original games, support characters are nothing new, and there has even already been a game representing the Shippuden era.

All of that adds up to a crappy score for originality.

Addictiveness

This is a pretty easy game to put down. Everything this game does is something you’ve seen before even in other Naruto games. As such, I had trouble doing more than one or two chapters at a time. Considering the game is less than four hours long, it stretched due to this lack of interest.

The only thing you have a shot of getting addicted to is unlocking everything, but at this point playing as any of the playable characters is old hat unless you’ve only played the DS games. There’s just not a lot going on.

Appeal Factor

This game’s biggest problem when it comes to appeal is its timing. We’re a little over a month removed from Ninja Storm 2‘s release on the PS3 and Xbox 360. That game is incredibly comprehensive when it comes to the Shippuden storyline and is a pretty darn good game to boot. This game just can’t compete with it.

For fans, this is probably a pass unless you’ve been following the Ninja Council series since the outset. It ranks among the best of the DS Naruto games, but that isn’t anything resembling an accomplishment, as they are the weakest of the entire Naruto library, which spans something like thirty games, even in the U.S., at this point.

So, this is a game that fans and non-fans can safely ignore.

Miscellaneous

Well that’s pretty much it for this game.

What we have here is a serviceable title that is merely a continuation of a franchise that dates back to the GBA. It borrows pretty much every trick it has from prior games in the series and covers a storyline that is one of the weaker of the Shippuden era.

There are no extras or secrets to unlock. You just have the game and its small collection of modes. This is a straight forward game from start to finish.

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

Short Attention Span Summary

Well, over a year as passed, but the score is still the same. Naruto vs Sasuke is a competent game that doesn’t offer much value to anyone apart from the biggest of Naruto fans. If you include yourself in that group, give this game a look by all means. If not, feel safe sticking with Ninja Storm 2 as your Naruto game of choice. If you find this one for cheap later on down the road, give it a look.

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