As the Naruto fan base gets older, so does Naruto and his band of well-trained ninjas. The Shippuden storyline is a sequel to the anime series that follows the spiky-haired boy as he returns to the village of Konohagakure after a two-and-a-half-year training session with his mentor, Jiraiya. Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4 will reunite the hyperactive youth with his buddies, and you can play through the storyline from Naruto's point of view or from four other character perspectives. The gameplay is similar to the previous Ninja Council games; it's an action platformer that's still heavy on the action, but this time there's a lot more exploration than punching the first person that shows up onscreen. We had a chance to play Ninja Council 4 with Tomy representatives, who stopped by so we could check out the single-player story mode as well as the multiplayer portion.
For those who are familiar with the Ninja Council series, one of the noticeable changes in this game is that the levels are much larger. The touch screen will have a map so you can look ahead for pitfalls, but given that the locations are more expansive, there's a lot of exploring that can be done and goodies to collect. You'll find that your summons, brought forth by a tap of the touch screen, will come in handy when solving environmental puzzles or getting past tricky platforming sessions. Also located on your bottom screen for convenience are your two squad members, who will jump in and help when you tap on their character portraits. Your jutsu is available on this screen as well, which can be a little tricky to access when your hands are tied in an intense fight.
Once you complete a stage, you can go back and play it again in a more difficult Ninja mode for additional points. With these points, you'll be able to unlock more characters (up to 17 total) and new special moves. The game begins with Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, Rock Lee, and Neiji as playable characters, but we were told that fan favorites as well as new characters will be unveiled. The criminal organization Akatsuki will also play a more prominent role in this story. For replay value, you can play through the game from the different perspectives of the initial five characters and the story will change slightly between characters. We were told that in general, there are less objective-based missions, so you aren't running around doing fetch quests; instead, each level ties into the overall story. The game is obviously tailored toward fans of the series who have been following Naruto up until this point, so newcomers might want to brush up on their Naruto lore.
To truly test out our ninja skills, we played a couple of rounds in the multiplayer mode, which is available through local wireless for up to four players. There are four good-sized maps to play on, and you will have access to the full roster. The rounds go by incredibly fast, especially considering that we limited the time to a minute. You can max it out at two minutes, but we're sure that the dynamics will change when more players are involved. Other than trying to pummel your opponents in these matches, you have a chakra wheel on the touch screen, which you can spin to the right with your stylus to charge it up or spin to the left to exchange chakra for health. This gives you a chance to recover just enough health to win, as long as no one catches you beforehand. It's a fun diversion with friends, but it's local only, and this is the only mode available.
It looks like everyone's gotten a bit of a makeover in Ninja Council 4. The environments and characters are still in 2D, but it's a clean and detailed look that isn't distracting. Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4 seems to be more of the same for fans who have enjoyed the Ninja Council series, and for those looking to delve into the new Shippuden storyline, this is also a chance to see what Naruto and the gang are up to. Ninja Council 4 is set to be released on May 26.