Release Date: September 26, 2006
Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2 has significant improvements over the prequel, though it still falls into many of the same traps. If you want to save time, this game covers many of the anime and manga story arcs, told in highly simplistic cut scenes and the fights themselves. From here, the only question comes in the playability, and there's surprisingly quite a bit of it. Clash of Ninja 2 doesn't come close to breaking free of the boundaries of a "licensed game," but it manages to improve on the original in almost every way, including, oddly enough, ease of play. For fans of the series, this title will definitely offer a fun time.
Right off the bat, 8ing/Raizing made several extremely smart design decisions for Clash of Ninja 2. The first one was to take advantage of the GameCube's hardware and hone the game to a brilliant sheen. The longest load times are neatly disguised as fight intros, and every other load time (showing Naruto eating ramen, an image that grows old quickly) is one second long, at most. This reminds positively of old-school cartridge systems and represents some truly excellent programming. The fact that 8ing/Raizing knows their stuff is further evidenced in the game's graphical quality. You won't mistake the title for the television series, but it looks great and brilliantly evokes the feel of the show. The overall presentation of Clash of Ninja 2, a 2003 game that has only just been released stateside, compares favorably to the average licensed GameCube title available today.
Sounds are solid, with the effects having quite a bit of impact; the music is surprisingly memorable and better than the show's harmonies in many aspects. Voice acting is also present, which is actually a point against it, thanks to the single-handed quality ruination that is Sakura's painful dubbed voice.
Unfortunately, for all the efficient, even beautiful coding, the gameplay itself is a little shaky. Clash of Ninja 2 can be summarized as taking Smash Brothers, making it 3D, using basically identical stages and characters, and losing the items. The game takes so many pages from the perennial party fighting game, but it misses a few basic spots. Your cast of over 20 characters (you start off with 10) plays pretty much the same. If the character doesn't have a specific, highly obvious gimmick, the differences between them and Naruto will only be in their Jutsu and some subtleties. Once you've figured out how to beat one character as Naruto, you've figured out how to beat everyone while playing as most of the game's characters. The characters that have more obvious gimmicks and tricks are often – but not always – broken characters. Heaven help anyone wanting to run tournaments of this game because Rock Lee (to some extent), Orochimaru, and the "super-powered" versions of Kakashi, Sasuke, and Naruto are, in a word, broken.
The strange part of it is, even though this is fairly low-quality play that won't hold up for very long, it's very fun at times. Getting four characters in one ring, all against all, is a recipe for mayhem that holds up at least in raw spectacle to Super Smash Brothers Melee. Story Mode, covering the time just after the Genin exams, offers a neat mix of fights and lets you play as quite a few characters, participate in one-on-one and team fights, and has a few gimmicky matches thrown in to mix things up a bit (Rock Lee without his game-breaking Chakra Gates, or fighting a bunch of illusory images as Naruto). Unfortunately, at several points, Clash of Ninja 2 has you win a fight as one character, only for that character to then be defeated in the following cut scene with only one move – which you never see – and then a scream. About the third time this happens (Cursed Seal), you really, really start to get annoyed. Since the intro had already been sliced in, why couldn't choice clips be included from the anime to show some of the moves?
The fun does not last. Finish the 30-fight arc of Story Mode – there are no individual storylines, which would have been a very nice addition – and the only time you'll be pulling out this disc again is for the occasional four-player game after you're tired of Smash Brothers Melee for the night but want to beat each other up some more. Additional modes are the fighting game norm at its plainest, with nothing new or particularly interesting except for the fact that you don't hear Sakura's voice nearly as often. It's almost as if the game is timed with a sequel in mind. (Note that right now, Clash of Ninja 4 is out in Japan.)
The greatest curse of the Clash of Ninja series, is that if you put all of it into one release, it would be an excellent game for fans. As it is, however, it's the worst ideal of episodic content. While Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2 is an improvement over the original in many ways, it is also, at its core, a rehash, continuing where that game let off and making sure to stop at a point that can lead into the third. In spite of excellent coding, beautiful graphics, and fairly enjoyable play, Clash of Ninja 2 does not last long enough or offer too many compelling additions from the original to be a justifiable purchase for most fans of the series. On the other hand, if you haven't grabbed the original and find yourself wanting to throw the Uzumaki Barrage around sometimes, Clash of Ninja 2 includes many of Naruto's classic enemies to smack around, so it might be worth picking up.
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