Naruto Shippuden: Naruto vs. Sasuke is the newest in the series of action/adventure games from Tomy on the DS. This is actually the sixth entry in this particular series, which has been running since the Game Boy Advance era. The series has been known as the Ninja Council series, which was the subtitle for a number of these entries. Chances are if you're a longtime Naruto fan, you've had a chance to check out at least one of the games in the series, and if so, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect in Naruto vs. Sasuke. Not much has changed; aside from some minor alterations, advancing the plot seems to be the primary goal. The story arc is not too far into the Shippuden plot line, which follows an older Naruto as he attempts to reconnect with his wayward childhood "friend," Sasuke.
The plot is a bit of a throwaway device for me; I've kept up with the series in manga form, and most of Naruto vs. Sasuke draws heavily from the anime series instead. There aren't huge differences, but I'm more engrossed in the way the story unfolds in print. What you get here is pretty low-key, mostly dialogue text peppered with small talking heads when the story needs to advance. If you care about story presentation for the Naruto series, you'd do far better by checking out Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 on Xbox 360 and PS3. DS owners definitely don't get presentation values in Naruto vs. Sasuke that are anywhere near those in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.
Thankfully, the gameplay is pretty decent for a licensed product. I hesitate to say that it's exceptional because the platforming and combat became pretty bland. While I love that there are so many unlockable characters to try out and you can customize your teams when you begin a level, most characters play in a similar fashion, with the exception of their special moves. Depending on who you choose as a playable character, there are some neat things that can be done with combination attacks to add some variety. However, those attacks eat up about half of your special bar, so it's better to save them for boss fights.
If this is the first time you've played one of the Tomy-developed portable Naruto games, I'll give you an idea of what to expect. As the game begins, you'll gain control of Naruto, Sakura and Sai, which should give you a rough idea of where this picks up story-wise. From there, you get an overhead view of a map that allows you to select levels, the layout of which is pretty linear. As you progress, you'll gain access to optional side missions, but you'll mostly be traversing the stages in the order that the game wants you to tackle them.
Each stage depicts areas that are familiar to Naruto fans, usually using Leaf Village-style environments such as large, sprawling forests, which have a heavier focus on verticality more so than going along a horizontal path. You're still moving from left to right, but you'll be moving up quite a bit to get to your end goal. This adds some more distinctiveness to the game when compared to similar 2-D action titles. If you've heard of the Legend of Kage series (the sequel was released on the DS), Naruto vs. Sasuke is somewhat similar to that.
Your basic move set is pretty limited. Most characters use their fists for the basic attack, which can be strung together in combos against weaker enemies, so you can rack up a pretty high combo number if you're speeding through the stage. This number has little impact in relation to the gameplay, though, other than showing off to yourself. There are a few other moves in your repertoire, one of which is a ranged attack that has you tossing out shurikens. The other is the character's special attacks, which are accessed via the touch-screen; two special attacks are typically available. You can also combine moves with other characters, as I mentioned earlier. The problem with the special attacks is their limited use; since they eat up so much of your special bar, you're only getting a couple of uses out of them per character, so I only used them for boss fights. The special attack activation animations also get a little tiresome to watch after a dozen uses.
Finally, the overall difficulty is a little too far on the easy side. Bosses can be a little bit of a struggle, if only because they have an enormous amount of health, but most boss fights are won by simply using the same jump attacks over and over again to whittle away at their health. Basic enemies fall in one or two hits, and there's enough health dropped in each level so that dying is a non-issue. Even if you fall in battle, most stages aren't particularly huge and troublesome to get through, with a few late game exceptions. Once you know which path to take, you can bypass most enemy encounters, and the only thing that really extends the overall time you'll spend with the game is finding the hidden scrolls — they're quite well hidden! — to unlock the full roster.
Overall, I can't say that I'm particularly impressed with Naruto vs. Sasuke, so it's not something that I'd suggest picking up if you're not a hardcore Naruto fan. It's a decent enough action platforming title on the DS that has some very lovely sprite work, but I found the gameplay to be pretty vapid. There are features missing from this release that were present in previous titles in the series, such as the lack of online play and playable villain characters, so it's definitely not the cream of the crop in the long-running Ninja Council series.
There's enough fan service in Naruto Shippuden: Naruto vs. Sasuke in terms of the number of unlockable good guys, who offer most of the familiar Jutsu and special attacks from the anime. Fans will definitely get some enjoyment out of this title, but it's going to fall a little flat for everyone else. If the gameplay had a little more variety in the platforming elements and combat, I'd be more on board, but you start to feel like you're doing the same mission or stage over and over again, with just a slight change in the backdrop. The boss fights also suffer from being not difficult but dragging on for too long, and that certainly needs to be fixed in the next entry in the series. Pass up Naruto vs. Sasuke for now; it won't hold your interest for the entire adventure.
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