Release Date: March 7, 2006
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for quite some time now (yet still have Internet access for some reason), odds are you’ve heard, at least in passing, about Naruto, the blond-haired ninja sensation who breaks just as many eardrums as he does bones. Forever increasing his skills and surrounded by a gigantic, well-designed cast of characters, he vows one day to become Hokage, leader of his ninja territory.
When Naruto hit Japan just after the turn of the century, it became one of the most popular manga and anime in the country. In fact, Naruto-mania still runs strong, and when anime enthusiasts on the other side of the world got their taste of the noisy ninja, that popularity grew larger still. Naruto’s spawned tons of merchandising since its inception—toys, foods, video games, raunchy fan-comics, you name it, the public fanbase has gobbled it up.
Years later, the series is still going on in Japan, of course, both in manga form and a filler-story-arc ridden anime that forever threatens to catch up to the manga and cause both to eat into each others’ profits in a temporal paradox explosion. Meanwhile, here in America (and other countries), we’re struggling as we start from the very beginning of things, and we’ve got a long way to go before those of us without broadband are synchronized with Naruto’s country of origin. The series is being showed in dubbed form on various networks, and now that corporations know that it has worldwide appeal, it’s finally time for the games to leave Japan.
By now, you should have grasped the point of my impromptu history lesson. See, it’s been a long time between Naruto’s inception and localization. Sure, other overseas anime sensations have suffered this syndrome (see Ranma 1/2), but this is the first time it just looks so darned obvious, and the first time that broadband internet, and the Western anime popularity explosion in general, has allowed so many of us to experience such a time gap. This time gap, has, sadly, also applied to the video games based on the property.
Rather than having new games being made, the companies have taken a much more economical approach. Naruto: Clash of Ninja is nothing more than a Big Keys Calculator port of the original, three-year-old Naruto: Gekitou Ninja Taisen, for better or worse.
Yes, in terms of bankbooks, this is a great idea. In terms of gameplay, however, this wasn’t the very best move. Fighting games have advanced since these older games were made—in fact, they’d already been left in the dust when they were made. Not only in terms of engine polish, but features and replayability. People wary of importing finally have the chance to get the Naruto games without any fancy modifications or foreign console purchases; but the result is enough to make anyone over the age of 15 consider the importing route regardless.
The roster is nonexistent. I know that this is because the dub is only around the first major story arc and thus, not many folks have been introduced, but still, for a fighting game, this is just sad. Even the original Street Fighter II had more characters to pick from than this game has at the outset. The main trio of ninjas, their teachers, Rock Lee, and some palette swaps are all that anyone will be able to look forward to in this game, and you only get seven of these folks to start with—the rest must be unlocked.
One has to wonder what the point is, however—the fighting system is so basic, and the characters so lacking in techniques that you may end up going to sleep before you finish game one. Each character has but one jutsu (super special ninja technique) to their name, which already kills the game’s appeal—seeing these super techniques is one of the main draws of the anime, and in the anime, everyone has multiple ones. Outside of this lack of flash, everyone just has basic punches and kicks, kunai/shuriken throws, and specialty attacks. Combos? The manual and pause screen say they exist, but most of them look accidental at best once performed.
In the end, you pretty much end up flailing away at the other opponent (the AI in here is almost nonexistent) and clearing stages that way. Playing against a friend isn’t that much better, as there isn’t much in the way of technique or mind games to keep people interested or occupied. Tactics? High-level play? Bread-and-butter moves? They’re sparse here. There are some tricks you can pull off with the odd-looking combos and replacement technique counters (the move where your ninja disappears in a puff of smoke, leaving only a log behind), but that’s about it.
The game looks nice enough; cel shaded, decent animation and such—but outside of the actual fighting, there’s little life to the environments. Many of them are just so… static. Pretty, yes, but static.
I won’t get into the argument of sub versus dub voices here—I’ll admit to being biased due to fansubs and such. I honestly think the Naruto dub could have been a lot worse than it did turn out, but some voices grate on me simply because they’re not what I’m used to hearing. Sakura is the best example. Voices aside, the rest of the game in this department simply services, and nothing more. Generic background music (for a game with a ninja theme, anyway), and sound effects make for a fairly bland, but inoffensive, package.
As a game marketed to kids, I can’t even get all that worked up about Clash of Ninja’s shortcomings. When it was released in Japan, it was to quickly take advantage of an animated series that was meteorically rising in popularity. License took priority over substance, and it still shows here in the English version.
If you’ve got some little fans of the show, toss this to ‘em and they’ll be entertained for a good while just seeing their favorite Naruto characters jumping, flipping and jutsu-ing around the screen. However, for us older fans (especially those raised on the fansubs) and people with even a tiny knowledge of how fighting games work, one shouldn’t even bother giving this a second look. Wait for the ports of the later Gamecube fighters, or give the import ones on PS2 a look—they’re far more robust than this.