Up until recently, the Naruto anime series had a fairly low profile in the US. Though Shonen Jump began running the manga in 1999, it didn't have much visibility on these shores. However, with the anime now airing to positive marks on The Cartoon Network, the quirky adventures of ninjas-in-training Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura, and Sasuke are becoming known to a wide audience. Publisher D3 is aiming to make the most of the anime's burgeoning popularity and also sate GameCube owners hungry for some action with its upcoming release of Naruto: Clash of Ninja, the upcoming 3D fighter for the GameCube. We had the chance to check out the upcoming game to see how it fares after it's had a run of localization.
If you're a hardcore Naruto fan or manic GameCube owner then you should be familiar with the Clash of Ninja games, as the series has been going on in Japan since 2003, when the first game hit the Japanese market, and is currently up to its fourth installment. The games have gone the cel-shaded fighter route that many anime properties have, and have steadily improved with each installment. Given that each installment has been iterative, those familiar with the games should brace for some retro action when Naruto: Clash of Ninja hits, as the game is based on the very first fighter that hit in April 2003.
You'll find story, time-attack, training, survival, play-against-computer, and two-player battle modes to hone your skills with. The modes are all self-explanatory and should be old hat for seasoned fighting fans. You'll find seven characters to choose from at the outset, with another three secret characters to unlock. Each fighter will come with their own unique moves, as well as the ability to perform more than a dozen combos. The fighting system is solid and offers an easy-to-pick-up offense and defense system. You'll also be able to perform powerful counters and unique special attacks that dole out a hefty amount of damage to your foes.
The presentation in the game is what you'd expect from a fighter based on an anime. The visuals in the game sport a clean look that gets a lot of mileage out of its anime inspired cel-shaded art direction. The characters are instantly recognizable and sport animations that suit their unique fighting styles and personalities. The fighting arenas are a modest mix of locales that vary in size, from small to spacious. The audio in the game is a by-the-numbers mix of voice for the characters, using the anime's voice cast, and punchy tunes that sport the standard Asian and rock influences.
Based on what we played, Naruto: Clash of Ninja is fine for what it is. The fighting system is accessible, albeit basic as far as 3D fighters go, and the modest roster includes a decent sampling of the core cast. The catch-22 to the game is that its sequel, which is set to follow for release in the US sometime in the future, offers a better overall experience. But the odds of later games being published will likely rest on how the initial game is received. If you are totally jonesing for a Naruto fix you'll want to keep an eye out for Naruto: Clash of Ninja when it ships early next month. However, the game's modest roster leaves a bit to be desired. Look for our full review on the game shortly.