The Naruto series of anime and manga is one of the most successful in recent history to make the jump across the Pacific. It's no surprise, then, that Namco Bandai Games is set to release another fighting game based on the license. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is an eccentric brawler that was released way back in 2003 in Japan, but it's finally coming to the US later this year, exclusively for the PlayStation 2.
Ultimate Ninja is a bright, screaming fighting game featuring more than a dozen characters from the Naruto anime. The setup is about as transparent as they come. Naruto and his friends from the Ninja Academy get together and decide to beat the crap out of one another in order to prove once and for all who the best ninja is. Characters include favorites such as Naruto, Sasuke, Kakashi, and more.
The fighting takes place on two planes: a foreground and a background. You can move freely between the planes, which you'll want to do in order to collect pickups, lure enemies into traps, and so on. There are 12 stages in all, and you can perform special moves to switch stages in the midst of battle. Since some characters are better suited to certain stages, changing levels can have a major effect on the outcome of a battle. Stages are not only filled with pits, water, and other hazards, but also with non-player characters onscreen. Some of these characters can get hostile, so you have to watch your step. The pickups include food items and weapons such as giant ninja stars. You can steal your opponents' items by attacking them, so the fights will often end up in a mad dash to grab the best items.
In true anime fashion, there are super moves that you can pull off once your chakra meter is full. These moves initiate a sort of cutscene in which you have to hit a chain of buttons to land attacks on your enemies. Attacks we saw included a sort of Dragon Ball Z energy blast and a goof move that turned the opponent into a frog.
There are a handful of different game modes to test your button-mashing skills in Ultimate Ninja. You can try out scenario mode to follow the story of your favorite ninja as he or she fights to become champion. There's also a mission mode in which you can fight an endless stream of opponents to improve your ninja rank, and of course there's a two-player battle mode.
Ultimate Ninja has a very familiar look to it, as it uses similar cel-shading techniques that have appeared in just about every anime-based game for the past few years. Still, the game looks nice and runs at a quick clip. The backgrounds are fairly detailed and all the characters are faithfully represented stylistically, and they're brought to life by some very energetic and very flashy animation. The US version of the game will feature full voice work from the American voice cast, but for an added bit of authenticity the game will retain the Japanese text that pops up on the screen during battles.
We'll bring you more on Naruto: Ultimate Ninja before it's released in June, and we're hoping to get some hands-on time with the game at E3. In the meantime, be sure to check the gamespace for some brand-new screens and movies from the game.