An Improved Naruto Sequel? Believe It!

Bandai revisits their fighter with an expanded single-player mode and more.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 5, 2007
The first Naruto: Ultimate Ninja was a surprisingly decent fighting game. Helmed by Bandai's CyberConnect2 development studio (the folks behind the .hack series), it captured the general feeling of the show, which regularly features the little ninja-in-training pulling off cinematic moves that seemed impossible to do in a traditional adventure game without becoming incredibly repetitive -- which is probably why CyberConnect2 made Ultimate Ninja[/game] a fighting game instead. The result, we thought, turned out pretty nicely, though it lacked some depth.

Given our time with a near-final version of the game over the weekend, we'd say some of the criticisms of the first game were taken to heart. [i]Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2
is, at its core, an almost carbon copy of the stuff we say in the first fighter, but it looks like the dev team decided to integrate a bit more storyline and some very light adventure elements into things.

The first thing we noticed was that the number of options on the main menu had shifted a little. The Challenge Mode, wherein specific conditions for a battle are laid out before jumping in, has basically been folded into the expanded Ultimate Road Mode, which starts Naruto out in the Leaf Village and lets him run around a little, playing a few mini-games for some cash. That cash is best spent unlocking new goodies for the characters that are progressively revealed as the storyline plays out, but they can also go toward decking out Naruto's pad. We didn't get a chance to have a good at playing Ninja Interior Decorator, but it seemed fairly robust.

We did however, explore the village a little, talking to some folks (which in at least one case actually unlocked them as a playable character), and participating in a couple mini-games. In the first, we had to race around a track while doing a handstand by alternating between the Circle and Square Buttons quickly, stopping, slowing or speeding up to avoid some ninja dogs (no, we're so not making that up). The second was a little simpler, just dashing up a tree while collecting icons that sped us up while avoiding the many branches that were sticking out, but we actually enjoyed this one more. In both cases, the better we did, the more cash we got, so it doesn't seem like gaining funds is terribly tough.

In addition to pocketing some change, the game's string of story-driven battles where the Leaf Village is attacked by intruders also gave us points to pour into each character's individual abilities, thus helping them to level up in areas like speed, attack, chakra (special move juice), and so on. Because the Challenge Mode bits were integrated, there were also bonus objectives at certain points as we were taken through the paces of playing with the full roster of characters (eventually you'll unlock the 30+ character complement). The storyline seemed to play a lot more of a point this time around, which is a good thing, but the meat of the game was still more or less the same.

That means the game still isn't short on combat, but here we didn't notice too much that was different from the first game. It looked like the movesets were a little more beefed up and the level interaction a little more toned down, but we could still teleport to multiple planes as we explored some familiar locales like the training arena with its little underground tunnel. Square still uses any items found on the battlefield (L1 and R1 cycle through them), X still jumps, Triangle still unleashes the brief burst of Chakra Energy and the short window with which to hit an enemy and start of the mini-game-style super attacks, and Circle still let us dish out those hits.

Though the process for kicking them off wasn't any different, the special moves did boast a little more in the way of variety. In addition to the previous game's face button sequences that either doled out more damage and kept the mini-game going or reduced damage if we were on the receiving end, there was a new button mashing sequence and some analog stick rotation.

It definitely doesn't look like Ultimate Ninja 2 is going to try to fix what isn't really all that broken. We ran into more than a few difficult fights due to them requiring some more advanced moves to finish enemies off, but by and large muscle memory had out pounding out combos and teleporting to avoid hits (by tapping L2 or R2 at the right time) like pros in no time. Given that the preview build we got was all but done, we'll likely be getting in the final version of the game here too, since it hits next week. Look for a full review then.