Despite what you may be thinking, Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is, surprisingly, not a fighting game. There's not even an extra versus mode to be had. Instead, it's a third-person brawler in the same style as its predecessor, Naruto Shippuden: Legends: Akatsuki Rising. We got the chance to drive a few kizunas ourselves during Namco's Ignite event this past week here in San Francisco.
Kizuna Drive features a brand-new storyline centered on the mysterious disappearances of several ninjas from Hidden Leaf Village. Part of the story will follow Naruto and company's investigation into these bizarre occurrences, while the other part will focus on Sasuke and his band of cohorts as they pursue their own interests. To help recapture all the excitement of the series' filler seasons, the game will feature a plethora of animated sequences produced by the same artist from the show and voiced by the original English, or Japanese, voice actors.
After an extensive introduction sequence, we finally got our hands on the hotheaded ninja himself, Naruto. Our first mission marked the beginning of our investigation into the aforementioned disappearances. However, in lieu of doing any plodding detective work, our four-person team of Naruto, Sakura, Shikamaru, and Kakashi was beset by wolves--ninja wolves! In Kizuna Drive, simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to combat, with its rudimentary two-button setup. The circle button controlled our basic attack, while triangle was used to perform each character's signature moves. The normal attacks could chain up to four hits, and interspersing the special attack command would produce different effects depending on how many hits we had landed beforehand.
We could also perform special attacks independently by using the same button outside of a combo. The special abilities your characters have access to are determined by which scrolls they have equipped. Scrolls are unlocked as you progress through the game and can modify your character's stats as well as special techniques. Naruto's trusty rasengan made quick work of our aggressors, and even left one temporally stunned, giving us the opportunity to perform one of the new kizuna drive attacks. This special ability calls in your whole party to play a very violent version of hot potato with the enemy's body. As the poor animal bounced from one character to the next, it was our goal to knock the creature to any character other than the one who had knocked it to us. The longer you can keep this up, the more damage it will do.
After laying that pack of predators to rest, we decided to switch gears and try out the extra mission mode alongside a co-op partner. Kizuna Drive can support up to four players in local cooperative play, which is good because the AI seemed content to mostly stand around and wait for orders during the previous fight. Our goal in this particular mission was to travel from one arena to the next and fight a wide variety of highly improbable ninjas--including one with giant drills for hands (poor guy). As before, combat was a fairly straightforward series of standard hits, a few specials, and a pause every now and again to recharge our chakra.
For the tried-and-true Naruto fan in each of us, Kizuna Drive is shaping up to include everything you'd expect from the series' extensive pedigree. You can look forward to driving a few kizunas of your own come March 22.