Recently, it seems that the popular thing has been taking well-liked but fallen game series and reinventing their formulas. Crash, Spyro, Sonic — heck, even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — have all done it, so why can't Naruto, whose licensed games haven't yet left the "fun but mostly just okay" category? The Ninja Council series, until this entry, has been a series of okay-to-poor platforming-slash-brawling games for the Game Boy Advance, with broken-yet-sometimes fun gameplay which captures a surprising piece of the fun of the anime and manga. Apparently, for what is actually the fourth game in this series, Tomy decided to make something pretty strongly different to better use the new features of the Nintendo DS, turning the platforming action into a diluted version of the highly imported Jump Superstars — sort of. The results aren't exactly competition for the Jump series, but if you can't beat up Yugi, you could do worse than beating up Sasuke, or any of the 20 other characters you'll unlock as you play Naruto: Ninja Council 3.
For Ninja Council 3, Tomy made the interesting decision of completely abandoning the series' plot in favor of offering a cross-section of fights from across the entire Naruto series. The title features a "party fighter" attitude, single-player action relegated entirely to events used to unlock stuff, a large number of playable characters (and the ability to use other characters as "support"), and full use of the touch-screen for special moves. Players run around in moderate-sized 2D stages, with standard double-jump, dash, super-high jump, and limited wall-jumping abilities, alongside a highly simplistic attack scheme — X attacks in front of your character, Y attacks behind (or throws weapons), L attempts to teleport your character behind a nearby opponent, and R blocks. To call things as simple as it gets isn't quite true, but it's pretty close.
The game's touch-screen use is sufficiently integrated so that one doesn't picture this game hitting the PSP anytime soon, but it's not exactly exceptional. In addition to the limited map, all combatants' life bars and four buttons for using specials are on the touch-screen. Push that button, and your character starts a short charge, which is interruptible. If the character lands the special move, though, a mini-game ensues. Players need to quickly grab a stylus and follow the instructions on the screen, such as spinning a dial, blowing into the microphone, or recognizing three kanji in short order. The better you follow the directions, the more damage the technique deals. Needless to say, what little meat this game has is in selecting jutsus and using them. Players get one to three specials by default but can fill their spaces by selecting other characters' jutsus and calling in that character as a "striker."
To call Naruto: Ninja Council 3 simplistic would be accurate, but two other rather unfortunate words also apply: easy and short. The game's balance was obviously made for kids; all characters play mostly the same, specials are easy to execute, and missions tend to be fairly brain-dead, with only a few truly interesting scenarios to mix things up. More unfortunate, however, is the game's 60-space "Mission Bingo Panel," which represents the entirety of the game. These 60 missions last about three minutes apiece, with some as short as 30 seconds. Since most of the missions don't require multiple attempts, this game clocks in at maybe four hours of gameplay, and that's including the "secret" missions.
The "party" mode allows up to four people to fight it out, but given that the game doesn't have too much meat to it, and four-player requires multi-card play, this doesn't add too much to the game. Some decent levels have been clearly built for multiplayer combat more than single-player scenarios, which can lead to fairly manic gameplay at times, but it's nothing close to the chaos the Clash of Ninja series attains.
The game's presentation has certainly jumped up a notch in the DS format. In particular, Tomy's done a surprisingly good job converting the music from the series to the DS; voice clips from the always-questionable U.S. dub sound surprisingly decent on the DS' speakers, and sound effects are highly functional with just a twinge of variety to mix things up. Graphics are purely sprite-based, but the sprites are large enough to clearly express characters and their specials (even Naruto's trademark stupid grin comes across very well). The stages and interface are well-built to suit the anime's theme and matched to the appearances of the characters fairly well. The game's pretty and nice on the ears, but it could use some work in making for more interesting play.
In short, Naruto: Ninja Council 3 shows little to no improvement over its predecessors, with equally brain-dead play and a genre switch that sets it in competition with far better games in its own series, to say nothing of other games on the system using the same characters. This only makes its numerous flaws all the more apparent, though. Sure, it looks pretty, but without the gameplay quality, it simply doesn't go over as well as other works in the same series. It won't hold up exceptionally well for fans, either, whose money is better spent on cosplay items, and for anyone else, it goes squarely in "licensed schlock" category. It's more unfortunate that it will probably sell just as well as the other iterations, meaning Tomy won't put effort into improving the next one or adding more "ninja" to the series' feel, an unfortunate happenstance given how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games recently released managed to hit on this feeling so well.
More articles about Naruto: Ninja Council 3