Tomy loves Naruto. Since the series is so popular, Tomy definitely got the long end of the stick, as they manage to consistently release widely popular games for the Nintendo DS and Wii. It certainly can't hurt that they have a certain touch for 3-D fighters based on the series. Unfortunately, the same can't really be said of their action-platforming Ninja Council series, originally for the Game Boy Advance and later for the DS. I can't even identify what they lost from the first game in the series (which I enjoyed) to make each subsequent offering less and less enjoyable. The switch to the Shippuden series has only helped a little, and in this latest release, Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4, the same glaring issues make a return and somehow manage to seem worse for the wear.
The Ninja Council series, besides Ninja Council 3, is basically two different game modes with the same control set. Regardless of who you choose to play as, you get a character who can punch, double-jump, walk on some walls while jumping off others, duck and walk while ducking, and use two kinds of special attacks. At the mission's start, you choose two support characters and can tap them on the touch-screen at any time to call in their respective moves. (Of course, Sakura, the only female on the good guy team heals you and does nothing else.) At the same time, characters have up to four Jutsus available to them (initially one, but the rest are unlockable), which are also tapped on the touch-screen. These moves always involve a micro-game, the most typical of which is "scratch the screen from side to side." When I say that the characters don't play differently at all, I mean it: There is zero difference in fighting styles in this game.
The platforming segments are unremarkable, with every generic hazard and rather overzealous collision detection. Do not get within a half-screen of any spikes if you are going to jump, or you will fall a ludicrously long distance. It's also advised that you shouldn't fall a ludicrously long distance because if you do and you're not in a hit animation, you will land with enough force to shake the screen and freeze your character for many seconds. I was pretty sure the game couldn't get more annoying than the platforming sections, but I was proven wrong.
The game's boss fights are similarly platforming-based. Normally, I'd view this as an improvement over the low-grade Jump Superstars clone format from the third game, but unfortunately, what little I liked about the fights from that title got torn out and replaced with something even more annoying for this release. Worse yet, they only did so after giving players one halfway-decent fight in the old format. As always, though, the game is entirely about Jutsu spam, so if you're doing it right, you'll spend more time doing the mini-games than actually fighting.
The real problem comes when bosses start pulling out gimmicks. The second boss, Diedara, flies on a bird during your first encounter with her. Unfortunately, that bird is also prone to the same faulty collision detection that will drive players insane with spikes in the platforming levels. This means that any attempt to do anything that isn't a super move will result in you getting knocked back. Super moves that are aimed at the actual boss instead of her bird will also miss entirely, turning what should be an easy early-game fight into an infuriating mockery of the anime's battles, or those of other Tomy games based on the franchise — including Ninja Council 3.
Even the graphics and sound aren't of very good quality. Some character animations just look disturbing, while others generally don't come across as being very high-quality. Images that should probably be official art end up looking "off" somehow on the DS screens. Lots of little things could end up irking players, such as character portraits that don't show the hair or sprites not being proportional, and none of it feels like it was done intentionally. Sound effects are similarly weak, with tinny voice clips, generic effects, dull-sounding hits, and repetitive and dull music that will make you want to mute your DS.
Tomy does well with most of its Naruto games, so how do they keep failing at the Ninja Council series, when they got it modestly right the first time around? What is it that they can't get right here? Even fans will have a hard time enjoying Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4 when compared to other Naruto franchise games or, for that matter, action-platforming titles in general.Score: 4.0/10
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