Reviews// Naruto: Rise of a Ninja

Posted 20 Nov 2007 17:33 by
In the midst of E3 something miraculous happened to SPOnG. While trawling through the endless (is there a word that means longer than endless?) announcements, screens and trailers, something leaped right out and slapped SPOnG in the face, before hurling us around the room then screaming “Squeal with childish delight, pigs!” and covering our faces with spittle.

The fact that anything managed to grab our attention after more hours than we can count processing the new goodies (and getting them in front of you) is miracle enough but it doesn't stop there. Bizarre as it seemed, it was a Naruto trailer. Yes, gaming's most over-exposed character of 2007 managed to grab our attention. After watching disinterestedly as piles and piles of Naruto games poured through our letterbox, we were all pretty shocked to see ourselves laughing and jigging along as the little jump-suited ninja blasted around to a crackers J-Pop soundtrack.

So, when Ubisoft's Naruto: Rise of a Ninja passed across my desk I eagerly gathered it up and pushed it into the Xbox 360. What I found, while not making me burp up some sick, didn't quite live up to that initial fit of glee.

Naruto, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese anime and manga character of some standing (you can even catch his TV show on UK television – no surprise there).

He is a youngster with more than his fair share of inner demons. Well, it's one to be more specific: a nine-tailed demon fox. A bunch of ninjas died to put the big ol' foxy bastard in its place which, if you hadn't guessed, is inside Naruto. The venerable Fourth Hokage sacrificed himself to do it in. If you thought you had issues, put them aside. You've got nothing. Nothing.

Having a nine-tailed vulpine demon inside you tends to make you a bit unpopular with the neighbours, and Naruto is more or less universally hated in the Leaf Village. The game's story follows the first 80 episodes of the Naruto anime. These involve the hyperactive little guy trying to prove himself to the world (hostile neighbours and all) and become an awesome ninja.

So, in the main story mode, Rise of a Ninja is basically a series of missions and side-quests centred around the village of Konohagakure (Konoha, if you're lazy – that place has more names than SPOnG's MPD-ridden Aunty Pam/Paul/Spider-Man). An RPG structure ties together platforming and beat-'em-up elements to create a diverse whole.

That said, the aforementioned plot, for me, is the first stumbling block of Rise of a Ninja. I'm sure that if you've watched the first 80 episodes of the anime the game's plot makes perfect sense. Playing as someone who hasn't, however, the game feels like a series of loosely connected missions with little to pull them together. I mean, I get that Naruto's trying to become an awesome ninja – we all want that; I get that he's got to face his big scary Chunin exam; I get that he's got this rivalry thing going on with his mate Susake – I get all that. That didn't stop all the missions feeling like they're hung together a bit loosely, with a strong narrative through-line having been overlooked – perhaps because it seemed so obvious to the developers.
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