Release Date: October 23, 2007
It seems like Naruto games come in two styles these days. There are the Naruto fighting games, generally lauded as playable titles for the most part, and there is the occasional foray into other genres, like role-playing games or card battling. While the stretching of the franchise into the more esoteric forms of gameplay has almost universally resulted in experiences that will cause you to revisit your lunch, most of the fighting games have proven to be adequate. Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution is the latest of the fighting games, and while it offers serviceable gameplay for the most part, the simple, disappointing fact is that it does very little to distance itself in any appreciable way from other titles in the series.
This title begins the story shortly after the preliminaries for the Chunin exam, the test that Naruto's ninja class has to take in order to proceed to the next ranking of ninja. Each of the students who passed the preliminary rounds is slated to be pitted against one another, with relationships put to the test, startling powers pitted against one another and ambitions at an all-time high. As the story begins, the students are training against one another in hopes to improve their abilities before the final round. The plotline progresses through the disruption of those exams, the death of the third hokage (village leader) and the subsequent recruitment of Tsunade, a healer who has been selected by the village to be the fifth hokage. (The fourth hokage died while sealing the spirit of the nine-tailed fox inside Naruto.) The story stops where Jiraiya, Naruto's tutor, teams up with Tsunade to fight Orochimaru, the snake-obsessed orchestrator of the attack upon Naruto's hometown who perpetually seeks immortality and every jutsu he can get his hands on.
The unfortunate truth is, while Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution does some things right, every aspect of the game has some significant flaw. Visually, the title offers well-drawn backgrounds, and the scene transitions when a character is knocked into the adjoining battlefield are done with surprising clarity. Why is it, then, that the live shots of each character both before and after the fight look so pixelated and blocky that the GameCube would have been ashamed to display them? And what's with the motionless scenes through which each character converses before and after the battles in the Mission mode? Is the Wii's processor really so poor that it can't display expressions changing or mouths moving? One of the key visual elements of any title is consistency, and CoNR simply lacks that attribute; certain portions are cel-shaded and expertly conceived, and the animation is exceptionally good, but this only serves to emphasize the poorly rendered portions that much more.
In terms of audio accuracy, CoNR has issues that are similarly difficult to justify. While the characters' voices are fairly recognizable in most cases, there are certain flaws that a sharp ear will detect. In particular, the voice of Sasuke has clearly been performed by a different actor, and it's obvious whenever he opens his mouth. Worse yet, the contracts signed by the voice actors apparently had a clause that required them to recite verbatim whatever text appeared on the screen. This leads to some seriously robotic-sounding dialogue at some points in the game, particularly during the tutorial mission starring Naruto and Jiraiya, during which the latter, an unusually casual, undignified character, seems to be unable to use contractions or speak in anything but the stiffest of tones. In addition, some voices seem to have their volumes exaggerated while others seem to have been greatly toned down, as though preference was shown toward particular characters over others. Again, consistency is missing here, and the importance of a steady, comprehensible portrayal of the game as a whole can't be overstated.
This haphazard presentation continues into the fighting style as well. While the controls are simple enough to understand once one gets past the learning curve present in every game of this type, and the ability to use four different controller configurations (including the GameCube controller — points for that) is welcome, the fact is that many of the abilities available to the player simply aren't necessary to win. Every character has a combo that can be activated simply by jamming on the (1) button as quickly as possible, usually resulting in several hits and the loss of a significant portion of an opponent's life bar.
This is not to say that attacks are not varied and interesting; every character has at least two "special jutsu," the equivalent of a power move that will deal some serious damage if it connects with the opponent. There is a variety of hard attacks, ranging from Rock Lee's Leaf Hurricane to Sasuke Uchiha's Fireball Jutsu, each one possessing its own range and other effects. The ability to sidestep lends an additional element of skill to CoNR, and the scene transitions allow for some strategic activity — do you try to strike your opponent in the air and risk missing out, or do you get ahead of him and get in a few hits that he won't be able to dodge? It is regrettable, then, that none of these attacks are as reliable or effective as jamming on the (1) button until your opponent falls down.
Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution does have its high points. There are several methods of gameplay, from the story-based Mission mode to the single-player arcade-style mode to the multiplayer mode, and there are training exercises and extras that are available from the get-go that add some value to the title. Most of the visuals are well made, and the fighting styles are differentiated fairly clearly for each character, with younger or less skilled players able to button-mash, and more experienced players finding enough depth to dig into each character and find abilities to successfully prevent the button-mashers from completely owning the battlefield. There are even unlockable missions and characters; while the original options in fighters are woefully limited, players can eventually unlock 20 different warriors, ranging from the shy and quiet Hinata to the evil mastermind Orochimaru himself.
When trying to decide whether or not you should purchase Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution, there are some factors that need to be considered:
- Are you a Naruto fan who enjoys fighting games?
- Do you have a friend who shares these feelings and will play this game with you?
- Are you prepared to spend $50 on a title that owes a lot to its GameCube predecessor and has advanced comparatively little from that time?
- Can you forgive this game for its myriad flaws?
If the answer to all of the above questions is "yes," then you might be well served to give CoNR a shot. If the answer to any of them is "no," you might be better served looking into a different game, or possibly waiting a little while longer and picking up Super Smash Bros. Brawl instead. This title is not bad, but it's not particularly good, either; it simply blends into the crowd. That trait may be great for a ninja, but it's not so good for a console title.
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