Ultimately Underdeveloped

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 2 - The Phantom Fortress sports a long title, sure, but not much else.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 26, 2008
Before I start whining about just how little Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 2 is from the first Ultimate Ninja Heroes, know that I like the Ultimate Ninja games. CyberConnect 2 has built a very, very solid (if simple) little fighter out of the Naruto franchise that offers just enough depth to its suite of basic, almost one-button combo system that anyone can pick up the basics with just a few minutes of play.

On the PSP, every last bit of this comes through perfectly, which is what made the first Ultimate Ninja Heroes so impressive. The second time around, very little has changed; there are a few new combatants, some new moves, but on the PS2, the incentive to pick up the sequels has been the increasingly deep adventure mode. Here on the PSP, though, there's only the Mugenjo Mode and the points earned there to unlock stuff in the Ninja Road "store" to differentiate from the less than year old prequel.

Mugenjo Mode saddles you with bumbling through 100 floors of the Phantom Fortress that's appeared in the Hidden Leaf Village (and in the game's title, natch), unceremoniously sucking the life force out of everyone in town. It's basically just an easy way for CyberConnect 2 to recycle the same battles that you'd have in the game's Heroes Mode (which allows you to mix and match any three combatants, forming hidden bonuses in the process), but with added mini-games to mix things up.

These mini-game distractions take the form of scrolls that can be applied to the myriad empty spaces on on the grid-based floors of the Fortress. You can stock four at a time and pick from any that you choose, but the next scroll that appears to keep your stock up is random, so if you happen to get tired of the fights, you'll have to be judicious with your use of the other types. They include a familiar tree-running game, a Simon-esque challenge, a follow-the-shell exercise, slots, and answering trivia questions that a complete Naruto newbie like me would have absolutely zero hope of actually answering.

In all the six different scrolls at least mix things up, but they can't distract from the fact there's a lot of just button mashing to win battles. Yes, the points gained from winning these fights (and doing so by fulfilling certain challenges like finishing someone off with a super move) will unlock art or upgrades or music, but it's the kind of goodies that you'd kind of expect. At least the Ninja Road mode, where you spend points to walk along a path, is an interesting way to actually unlock them.

No matter the mode, though, the game really does pop with the PSP screen. All the hand-drawn character art looks absolutely gorgeous (particularly the game's animated scenes), and it's a testament to the programming skill of the CyberConnect 2 team that they were able to basically port the large-ish levels pixel-for-pixel to the small screen without losing detail. Animations -- particularly the now famous cinematic special attacks -- are slowly approaching the quality of the show itself and everything runs perfectly.

As an added plus, the game supports both English and Japanese voices, and there is, frankly, a ton of voice work. Having dual language tracks is something I wish all games could do, and it's surprising how much of an edge off the normally repetitive battle cries hearing something in another language can take. The rest of the music and effects are equally top notch, rich with traditional Japanese instruments with plenty of guitar layered on top. I do wish they'd stop using that damn "yoooooo?" sound effect for menu confirmations, though. It's fine in small voices, but every press of the X button kicks it off in the menus.

It's not that Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 2 - The Phantom Fortress is a bad game. I'm more than happy to confess that I still got drawn in by the battle system and, for a time, exploring the fortress and seeing just how bad the "story" in the game was going to be was entertaining enough, but with so little of the actual game being identical (or seemingly so) to the first PSP outing, it's far, far harder to recommend this. If you've never played the series on the PSP, by all means, pick this up, but otherwise it might be best to just give it a rental, as you likely will burn through all the game has to offer in about a weekend or so.
The Verdict