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GBA Review - 'Naruto: Ninja Council 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 25, 2006 @ 1:57 a.m. PDT

Naruto: Ninja Council 2 builds on the storyline of the first game and will allow players to switch between three unique characters on the fly to strategically conquer each challenging level. All-new multiplayer modes offer head-to-head action or cooperative play for up to four players.

Genre: Action
Publisher: D3Publisher
Developer: Aspect Simulations
Release Date: October 4, 2006

Naruto: Ninja Council 2 picks up where the previous game left off. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura of the Village of the Hidden Leaf have successfully completed a number of difficult missions; their success has proven to their sensei, Kakashi, that they are ready to advance from Genin (Ninja Trainees) to Chonin (full-fledged ninjas). As the trio prepares for the advancement test, Orochimaru, a former Leaf ninja is hatching a plot to destroy the Leaf Village once and for all.

Naruto: Ninja Council 2 is divided into three different segments. Most of the game takes place in 2D side-scrolling levels, set among the various locales in and around the Hidden Leaf Village. In these stages, Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura must advance, avoiding deadly traps and countless enemy ninjas who seek to defeat them. By and far, these stages are the most boring portions, which is unfortunate, as they make up the greatest percentage of the gameplay. There are six different enemies in the title, and you will see them over and over. The enemies you encounter in the first stage are also the same ones you'll battle in the last stage, and other than a slight tendency to block more often, there are no changes in their skills or behavior. Any of the heroes can defeat them in one or two combos, and they never provide an actual threat to the ninjas, which causes combat to descend into mindless tedium.

The platforming itself is similarly uninspired. The ninjas have the ability to double jump and teleport, but few stages take advantage of these abilities. Except for the occasional blind jump, the stages are just a matter of moving forward. A few traps, such spike pits and crushing boulders, bar the path, but they are all easily avoidable and do almost no damage, even if you do get hit by them.

In the sprinting stages, the ninja's running speed triples and he rushes through a stage, collecting Leaf Icons and smashing bricks out of the way in a sort of budget Sonic the Hedgehog. Although these portions are a welcome break from the tedium of the platforming stages, they are short and incredibly easy. There are no difficult jumps or traps to block your way, and the only "tough" part is collecting all of the Leaf Icons.

Boss fights pit you against one of Naruto's biggest foes. Although bosses block more often and have a wider variety of moves, you can still defeat them quickly and easily, so these fights don't differ from regular enemy battles. To make things even less difficult, the ninjas have a block move that prevents all damage, so a boss can only hurt them with a lucky hit.

Even more unfortunate is the lack of bosses; there are only a few different bosses in the game and you battle each of them multiple times. These foes never change between fights either, except maybe getting a few more hit points or a single new move. After beating Orochimaru for the third time, the master villain just doesn't feel like a threat anymore.

On paper, the three ninja each have their own advantages. Naruto has a lot of health and power, Sakura uses items better, and Sasuke is a balance of the two. In actuality, each of the three ninjas is identical except for their "Jutsu" techniques. They do the same damage with punches, have the same speed and jumping height and take the same amount of damage. You can switch between the three at will, unless the plot dictates otherwise, but Sakura is so incredibly powerful that I found myself using her all the time unless I was forced otherwise.

Each character has three powerful signature moves, or Jutsu. They do incredible amounts of damage but drain a specific amount of health for each used. Despite being the hero of the series, Naruto is the worst of the three. While his Uzumaki Barrage is a solid attack, the Sexy no Jutsu only works on weak enemies who can be defeated in a few blows, and his Summoning Jutsu fails roughly half the time. Sasuke suffers from similar difficulty, with his signature Sharingan only causing enemies to slow down very slightly. His other two moves, the Chidori and the Lion Barrage, are more useful, but take a large chunk of his health bar to perform. Sakura, the weakest in the anime, shines the brightest here. Her "Chaa!!" Barrage attack can easily reach up to 99 hits, and her Perfect Chakra ability massively boosts her power and speed.

Aside from the Jutsu, the ninjas also have access to Ninja Tools, which are divided into two types: throwing weapons and ninja scrolls. Throwing weapons are items such as Shuriken and Kunai. When a ninja collects them, he or she can throw them a single time for incredible damage. Unsurprisingly, Sakura does the most damage with throwing weapons, while Sasuke and Naruto do a bit less. Despite this difference, the weapons are so powerful that the extra damage is never a factor, and most kill every non-boss enemy in one shot.

The ninja scroll allows the ninjas to summon their fellow Leaf Ninjas for a powerful extra attack. The ninja summoned by the scrolls range from Shikimaru, who freezes all enemies on the screen with his Shadow Bind attack, to Kakashi, who uses his signature Lightning Blade attack to do massive damage to a single enemy. The player can carry up to three at once and use them at any time. These powerful screen-clearers are fun, but are pretty useless in the long run; the ninja trio is so powerful that it takes less time to beat the enemies via normal means than to sit through the summoning animations. The ninja scrolls simply add a small bit of variety to how you can defeat one of the countless identical enemies.

Naruto: Ninja Council 2 isn't bad looking for a GBA title. The main characters' sprites are colorful and bright, and all the Leaf Ninja resemble their anime counterparts at least as well as the system can handle. The attack animations are solid, if lacking in variety. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the non-boss enemies. They tend to have two or three animations and repeat them ad nauseam. The bosses get a few more attacks, but suffer from the same problem as the rest of the enemies. The stage design is similarly uninspired, with only minor changes separating the Hidden Leaf Village from Orochimaru's trap-filled mountain.

While the graphics are passable, the same can't be said of the title's soundtrack. The Game Boy Advance isn't known for being an audio powerhouse, but Naruto: Ninja Council 2 doesn't even try. At time, the music resembles something you'd hear coming from an early NES offering, full of annoying beeps vaguely resembling an actual song. While not horrible, the audio aspect can really grind on your nerves after a while.

A last warning: Naruto: Ninja Council 2 is short. Very very short. Even unskilled players can finish the game in roughly 1.5 hours. The extra features are few and require at least two playthroughs of the game with a perfect A ranking, which is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Once you've done that, there's nothing left to do. The game offers co-op and versus modes via a GBA link, but if anything, they are more dull than the main game and are best avoided.

If the words Genin and Jutsu mean nothing to you, then Naruto: Ninja Council 2 isn't for you. It's a title for Naruto fans, but in all respects, it's a sub-par action/platformer; It's short, it isn't very fun, and it is deeply unsatisfying. Even if you're a Naruto fan, there are far superior offerings for both the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube; avoid Naruto: Ninja Council 2 unless you really need Naruto on the go.

Score: 4.5/10

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