Naruto is the number one ninja at surprising people!
I’ll be the first to admit that when I picked up Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes, I wasn’t expecting too much. I am extremely familiar with the Ultimate Ninja franchise and was thinking that this game was probably going to be a truncated version of a pre-existing entry in the series. Even once I started playing the game, I still held to the opinion that this game was nothing more than Naruto: Ultimate Ninja “Lite.” However, as I played the game, I noticed there was much deeper gameplay involved. And now I can say with confidence that Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes sticks to the formula enough to still be recognizable as an Ultimate Ninja game, but has enough distinctive features to warrant it’s own spot in your game case.
There are two main modes to gameplay: Hero mode and promotion test mode. First up there’s Hero mode. What this mode entails is engaging in lengthy tournaments using a team of three ninja heroes that you put together yourself. Now when you first start up the game, all the usual suspects will be there from Hinata to Shikamaru, not to mention Naruto himself. But there are plenty of unlockable characters such as Itachi and Gaara. Once you decide on your team, you can go on one of several challenges of varying skill level and length. You can also decide the fighting order of your ninjas and whether you want to use any pre-game status -altering jutsus. Completing these challenges not only progresses you through the game, but it also benefits you in one extremely crucial way: For every challenge you complete you’ll get a varying number of scrolls. And getting these scrolls is the key to unlocking the second mode: promotion test mode. You can start this mode at anytime to establish yourself as a genin (the lowest-rank ninja), but it’s progressing in this mode that becomes difficult. The scrolls you earn in Hero Mode are the only way to unlock different promotion tests. And trust me, these scrolls are hard to get! But get enough scrolls and do well enough on your promotion test (though these are no picnic either), and you just may work your way up to a hokage-level ninja!
One thing I really appreciated about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes was that the core gameplay I’ve come to love and appreciate from the Ultimate Ninja Series is still, for the most part, intact. However, there are a few key differences that are important to note. First of all, you don’t have as many attacks. And although it’s pretty apparent at first, once you really get into the game you won’t notice the missing attacks as much. Another big difference between this game and the two previous Ultimate Ninja games is that this one is completely devoid of any story. And although this may sound like a bad thing, I would really list it as a positive. Many times anime games get so caught up in their stories that they sometimes don’t realize they’ve been telling and re-telling the same story for ten years. (DragonBall Z, anyone?) It’s a smart move to leave the story out of this title because fans of the series will already know it, and non-fans can play through it just as another generic fighting game.
In the visual department, however, I have to say that this one is very average. It’s pretty obvious that the developers tried to translate the 3D cel-shaded look of the two previous Ultimate Ninja games to the PSP, but it just didn’t work out. Unfortunately, the shrunken screen provides little room for the extreme detail that is needed to pull of this signature look. Of course, characters still look good, but they are not as detailed or stylized as they could be. And the same thing goes for the environments. They look like a shrunken-down version of what was in the previous versions, and unfortunately, the result just isn’t as outstanding as you would hope.
Sound is another department that is pretty underwhelming. The theme music is one area that is pretty good, mostly because it borrows heavily from the anime music. However, there’s virtually no voice acting, save for battle noises and one-liners from various ninja. And as great as these one-liners are sometimes, they can wear on the nerves very quickly.
But overall, I was very impressed with Naruto:Ultimate Ninja Heroes. Even though there are a few minor hiccups in the visual and sound departments, I can’t be asked to demand absolute perfection from a handheld title. And I believe that the gameplay more than makes up for these minor shortcomings. The play modes are all-new, and the team concept is certainly an interesting addition to the gameplay. Not to mention the absolutely unique dichotomy between the Hero mode and the promotion test mode. This one is definitely one to pick up, even if you’ve played all the other Ultimate Ninja games. Its new modes and uniqueness make it a worthy addition to the Ultimate Ninja series.