Inside Pulse 12

Review: Naruto Shippuden Shinobi Rumble (Nintendo DS)

Naruto Shippuden: Shinobi Rumble
Publisher: Tomy
Developer: Tomy
Genre: Brawler
Release Date: 02/08/2011

I’m DHGF’s official Naruto guy. As long as I have the right system, I get the game. I’m perfectly fine with that. I’ve played through probably about a dozen games under the Naruto brand at this point. I still haven’t got bored. Heck, if anything, I can still name several games in the franchise that I’d want to play. If I ever get a 360, I’ll have to try the action/adventure games that came out for it.

Anyways, with Shinobi Rumble, I have a rare opportunity to play a Naruto game that isn’t part of an established series. There’s the Ninja Council games, the Ultimate Ninja series, and several more. However, despite the similarities between this and those two franchises I mentioned, Shinobi Rumble is in face, a stand alone title. The only other one of these I’ve played is Akatsuki Rising, which I rather enjoyed. Thus, I was looking forward to giving this a try. (UPDATE: After writing this, I found out this may have been called Ninja Destiny 3 in Japan. Even if that where the case, this game is so far removed from the ND series that I wouldn’t count it.)

In recent years, we’ve seen several franchises put out a game that’s pretty much a rip off of Super Smash Bros. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did it not that long ago, and even Cartoon Network is getting in on the action. (Although the lack of Cow & Chicken or Courage the Cowardly Dog is very depressing. Mojo Jojo ALMOST makes up for it though.) With the sheer number of ninjas that the Naruto universe contains, such a game was inevitable. Let’s find out how it turned out.

Story

The plot for this game covers a single season of Naruto Shippuden. Naruto and company have gone through the hellish battle with Hidan and Kakuzu of the Akatsuki, and are busy dealing with the aftershocks. Meanwhile, Sasuke breaks free from Orochimaru and goes about collecting a team of ninjas to help him hunt down his brother. Toss in Jiraiya investigating reports that the leader of the Akatsuki has his headquarters in the Hidden Mist Village, and there is plenty going on.

Did any of that make sense to you? If you answered yes, than you can go through this game perfectly fine. If you’re trying to figure out what the heck a Jiraiya is, then the story is going to fly about fifty feet over your head. Seriously, you’re going to have to squint to see this thing. The story is an extremely barebones edit of the season its based off of. You usually get a few lines of text followed by some dialogue before you have a battle and do it all over again. As such, the story mode is something only fans will get much out of. Even then, the retelling is on the low end of the spectrum.

Where this game does differ from the usual fare is in its mode selection. I’ve played many a fighter that contains only a story mode and a versus option. Here, you have two bonus modes that not only give you bonus options, but also help you unlock new characters, arenas, and abilities.

The first mode up is Personal Battles. This is basically an arcade mode similar to what you’d find in most fighting games. In the story mode, you’re stuck with preset move lists, character selections, and you have little to no control as to what’s going on. Here, you can pick any unlocked character, customize their special attacks, and work your way through a gauntlet of ever tougher challenges. If you beat this mode with certain characters, you’ll unlock new content.

The real star of the game is the Mission mode. Once again, you can pick any character and customize their moves accordingly. However, you have a different end game in mind. Each character is given a bingo card. Then, you’re given three different missions to take. These can be worth from one to three points. Complete the mission, and a random mark will be made on your card. Anytime you get a bingo, you’ll unlock a new move or passive ability for your selected character. Each character has three unique abilities that can only be unlocked this way. The missions you complete will not be basic fights. You’ll be given specific goals to accomplish, such as not taking damage for a certain amount of time, fighting in the dark, etc. If you play through this mode with a character, you’ll pretty much have all of his/her ins and outs figured out.

Beyond these modes, you have a couple of other things to look at. Firstly, you have the summoning area. Rather than simply unlock a character, you’re given a mark you must input with the stylus. If you get the mark in correctly, you’ll unlock something new. You won’t know what you’ve got until you’ve put it in, thus adding a bit of mystery. However, you can enter marks by freehand as well. So, if you were to look the marks up online, you could simply unlock all of the characters from the get go. (There is no such option for the special moves however.) The other option lets you look up general statistics, such as character usage and win/loss ratios.

Oh yeah, the game supports up to four player battles, but it is wireless multi-card only. Sadly, it doesn’t go online this time around. If you’ve got buddies who play these games, its worth checking out at least.

The story may be a bust, but the extra modes do a pretty bang up job of making up for it. At the very least, this is the most fully featured Naruto game on the DS. To be sure, that isn’t saying much, but this is a step in the right direction.

Graphics

Shinobi Rumble uses 2D sprites to great effect. Sure, there are times when a character can look pixelated up close, but for the most part, the characters look and move fairly well for a DS game. I especially enjoyed how moves transitioned into each other, as it was smoother than you’d expect.

Like most Naruto games, the highlights are the effects. Sure, they were better in the previous two Ninja Council games, but they’re pretty good. I also liked how some of the backgrounds had interactive features. You can snuff out the candles in Orochimaru’s hideout, forcing you to fight in the dark. In another level, giant tubes full of water could be broken, causing the water to spill out. These are nice touches that you don’t normally see in a Naruto game.

Let’s get one thing straight. The game doesn’t blow me away or anything. I’d even hesitate to call it “good”. However, lively sprites and bright colors create an overall appealing visual experience. At the very least, it is better than the Naruto RPGs I’ve played. I call it thumbs slightly up here.

Audio

This is one of the rare Naruto games to exclude voice acting of any kinds. Even the GBA games featured voice clips here and there. Shinobi Rumble never does. In light of that, the only things to talk about in the sound department are the music and the sound effects.

The music is very typical for this sort of thing. It features a lot of high tempo music with heavy beats and an Asian flare. The battle themes are fairly catchy and fit the action quite well. I’d go out on a limb and say it’s some of the best music in any Naruto game. Heck, I can think of several tunes and hum them to myself, a franchise first. Is it some vast, sweeping score that sucks you in with every crescendo? No. However, it is good background music.

The sound effects are all very tinny. The DS isn’t exactly known as a technical powerhouse, but I feel this game phones it in here. You basically get a lot of thwacks and fwooshes that you’d expect from a game like this. The sound effects do enough to let you know they exist, but never strive above their station.

The overall audio presentation is pretty standard for a licensed game like this. The music is a little above average, but everything else is par for the case. It’s an underwhelming experience, but at least it isn’t a bad one. You’re free to play with the sound on, but you won’t care too much if it isn’t.

Gameplay

In many ways, this game is what I wish Ninja Council’s combat would be. Basically, it is a straight up brawler with combos, juggling, and special moves. Take that formula and add in up to four players in whatever combination you desire, and things start to get interesting.

The controls are pretty straightforward for the most part. You move your character with the d-pad, use the buttons for light attacks, heavy attacks, blocking, jumping, and teleportation. Attacks can be strung together in combos, and directional inputs change the attack you perform. Things are a bit stiff, especially when it comes to changing directions, but it works for the most part.

Easily the weakest part of the control scheme is how they’ve implemented the touch screen.. You see, those special moves are performed by tapping a related icon. If you tap the bigger icon, you’ll perform a weaker variant that doesn’t cost any chakra. If you tap a leaf icon, the game pauses for dramatic effect before you deliver the damage. While I personally, had no problems when it came to using this screen, the design is horrendous. For starters, unless you use your thumbs, you’ll have to hold the stylus in your hand, transition to a posture that allows you to use it, and then switch back when you want to use buttons. Even if you use your thumbs, you still have to take your thumb away from the face buttons. This constant back and forth is unacceptable. The time you spend transitioning from one grip to another could very well prevent you from blocking an attack or launching special when you an opening. It is cumbersome and stupid.

As far as the mechanics go, the game follows the example of Smash Bros. to a tee. Items randomly appear that offer various affects such as boosting stats to causing poison. There are plenty of platforms you’ll need to navigate around, and even the odd trap to trigger. You have a chakra meter that fills up as you attack and receive damage. It takes one bar to use a special move, and if all three bars are filled, you can enter chakra rush. This gives you infinite chakra for a short time and also prevents you from being stunned by enemy attacks. (You’ll still take damage.) Each character also has three health bars that are depleted as they take damage. When the last bit of health is gone, the ninja is toast.

Speaking on the health bar issue, the game does something stupid here as well. Let’s say your opponent only has a sliver of health left in their first bar. If you were to hit them with a special such as Naruto’s Rasengan, you’d expect that damage to carry over well into the next meter. After all, a fully powered move like Rasengan can take more than a third of a bar in one hit. However, the damage will stop when you transition between health bars. I don’t get that at all. If this were a game like Killer Instinct, where the game stopped as if switching rounds, I could understand it. Here, there is just a substantial amount of damage lost in limbo, and it annoyed me to end when I discovered it.

The best thing the game has going for it is the diversity among characters. That may sound odd to my fellow Naruto fans, as the fighting games have often been criticized for similarities among characters. Here, you’ll need to play someone like Sai completely different from how you would play Naruto. The former is designed solely for games of keep away, while the latter is best at mid to close range. Other characters have moves that stun opponents, making them ideal for team matches, while yet others such as Sakura can heal themselves. When it comes to creating matches of two on two, these combinations are pretty fun to screw around with. Once you’ve unlocked all of the special abilities, you can customize your characters to shore up holes in their game or specialize them to your style. It’s pretty sweet.

So, the game does a lot of things right in terms of character customization and simplicity. Some of the control decisions hurt the game though, and the simplicity of the combat might turn off hardened fighting fans. Still, I’d put this game above the other Naruto fighters on the DS, which is a good sign. It could certainly use some tweaks. I’d really like to see what the 3DS could do with a game like this.

Replayability

There’s good new and bad new on this front.

The good news is that in order to get a hundred percent on this game, you’ll need to spend fifteen to twenty hours. Add in some online play and that is bound to give you plenty of bang for your buck. Considering that Ninja Destiny 2 didn’t offer nearly that much content, that is a marked improvement.

The bad news is that most of that time will be grinding out through arcade mode and mission mode with each character. The story will take you only a couple of hours to blow through at most. This can lead the game to getting monotonous, which I’ll expound upon in a later section.

Once you’ve unlocked everything, this game goes the way of most fighters. It’ll keep offering you fun as long as you dig the gameplay and/or have someone to play with. Once either of those things go away, you’ll probably just put the game down.

Still, the grinding is at least meaningful content.

Balance

Anytime you’re in a one on one situation against the computer, you can beat them pretty easily. Get more people on your side, you can steamroll them with no problem. This is the case no matter what the difficulty.

Where there game gets hard are those situations where you’re up against multiple enemies. When this happens, you run a large risk of getting trapped. I’ve played several battles where they took turns using me as a punching bag with me pretty much unable to do anything in reply. If a keep away specialist is added to the mix, that character will likely bombard you with ranged attacks that prevent you from moving around too much. Then, the close combat specialist will launch a huge special move. Your life will quickly deplete during these segments. As such, they are easily the most challenging part of the game.

At no point did I find the game to be cheap or impossible. With a good tweak of special moves, or a solid game plan for dividing and conquering, any battle is winnable. Also, the game usually compensates for more enemies by giving them less health. AS such, you’ll find some tough but manageable fights if you go looking for them.

I was pretty happy with the balance overall.

Originality

Oh boy. I don’t think I can award too many points here.

If you combine the basic setup of a SSB game with prior Naruto games, you’ll pretty much get this every time. The game offers nothing inherently new, even if it does offer a new way to play with Naruto characters.

Addictiveness

So in the replay section, I mentioned how the game can turn into a grind. Well, that negatively affects the addictiveness. When I first started playing, I’d go at it in hour long sections. Once the story was over, I dove head first into the mission mode. I would play through with one character until all of their respective moves where unlocked and then go through arcade mode.

After a few sessions like that, I was hard pressed to continue on. I looked up the codes for remaining characters, tried everyone out, and occasionally fought a few battles. Even now, when I wanted to play through a bit to refresh myself on the game, I could only manage a few battles before I got bored. There was simply no compulsion to continue playing.

So, while there is plenty of meaningful content, there is little push to make it worth your while. It is likely that you’ll do as I did. You’ll play it a lot at first because of the novelty. Once that wears off, you’ll go back to other games. I, for one, reinstalled Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 and put several hours into that. It was just a better overall experience.

Appeal Factor

This is another game that falls under the “fans only” tag. If you’re not into Naruto, you won’t know what’s going on in the story. You’ll have no idea what chakra is, or why these characters can unleash large energy blast or transform parts of their bodies into snakes.

For fans, the game is worth a look simply because it is the best of the DS fighting games in the Naruto universe. The big drawback is that there are only sixteen characters. You can look at the cover to see them all. Series staples such as Rock Lee and Neji are absent, while the number of Akatsuki included is a paltry four. I miss Kisame. This is, however, the only game to include Fukasaku. If you don’t know who that is, you probably won’t care.

Where this a budget title, I’d find it easier to recommend to non-fans. After all, there aren’t that many fighting games on the DS. At thirty bucks, however, this is not a must buy.

Miscellaneous

Let’s see, I’ve already mentioned the silly health system, the odd roster, and anything else I can think of. I don’t think I have anything left to talk about in terms of this game.

Let me just leave off by saying that this was overall a pleasant surprise. I was underwhelmed by Ninja Destiny 2 to say the least, even if I thought it had promise. While I wouldn’t take this game over any of the Ultimate Ninja titles, I wouldn’t mind it as a snack between meals.

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

Short Attention Span Summary

Well, this ended up being the highest score I’ve ever given for a Naruto game on the DS, but barely. I find it funny how every Tomy released title is roughly in the same range in terms of quality, and all of the Namco titles are in a range about two or three points higher. Still, if these games continue to get better like this, than I like where things are headed. Shinobi Rumble won’t exactly knock your socks off, but Naruto fans are sure to get some amusement from it. At the very least, it is worth a look if you’ve liked any of the other DS games.

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