Though this wimpy fighter still doesn't pack enough punch, it has all the heart and charm of your favorite spiky-haired ninja hero.
- Awesome production values, from graphics to voices
- Good original storyline
- Quirky and authentic character interactions
- Very entertaining for six hours.
- Not entertaining at all after that
- Horribly shallow fighting system
- Bad minigames.
Like its plucky eponymous hero, Ultimate Ninja 3 gets by on sheer charm. Unlike the boy ninja, its ninjutsu is weaker than watered-down ramen. No, it isn't much of a fighting game. But it's so faithful to its source material, it should nevertheless provide hours of good entertainment to fans of the series. It has two short single-player modes, pitch-perfect writing, flawless voice acting, spit-shined graphics, and a surprisingly entertaining dating system. All of this is stuffed with the usual long list of unlockable characters, item collection, several terrible minigames, and of course, the wimpy combat. If you're looking for a good fighter, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for an interactive and sweet-tempered trip to Hidden Leaf Village, this is the game for you.
The meatiest single-player mode is called Ultimate Contest, and it tells the story of a festival thrown together by Tsunade for the sake of visitors from the hidden village of Sand. The main event is a battle royal in which each contestant gets a crystal. When contestants fight, the winner gets the loser's crystals. The two who finish with the most crystals get to battle for the right to create a new Hidden Leaf Village regulation. Rock Lee wants to force everyone to grow bushy eyebrows. Kiba wants to mandate regular medical examinations for the village canines. Sakura wants to create a lovey-dovey Sasuke rule. And Naruto, of course, wants to be Hokage.
If that sounds just like an episode, it also feels like one. From the way Naruto says, "I'm hittin' you, and you're hittin' the ground!" to Hinata's shy mumbling, every character is perfectly represented here, and they all get their chances to shine. This is immaculate fan service. The story unfolds in three stages: a qualifying round in which you have to get 60 crystals, a semifinal round in which you try to get as many as possible, and a final fight with another ninja. By the way, Jounin are also allowed to compete, so your opponent could be anybody. (If you don't know what a Jounin is, look at it this way: If Naruto is as tough as a nail, your average Jounin is as tough as a hammer.)
The way this all plays out is simple: You run around Hidden Leaf Village completing simple quests and challenging other characters to fights. For instance, at one point you happen upon Hinata, who has been badly beaten, so you go find her some medicine. As you travel around the village you can destroy pots and crates to find money, and collect scrolls that spawn after each completed quest. Money buys all sorts of things, and scrolls by the items you'll need to unlock new jutsus.
There are also a handful of minigames you'll be asked to compete in, nearly all of which are really, really bad. The shuriken-tossing game misses its mark the worst: Targets pop up in a field with button symbols on their chests, and you have to hit the corresponding button faster than your opponent. It seems simple, until they start appearing in numbers larger than three at a time. There's a penalty associated with hitting a wrong button, and in your scramble to throw shuriken at five different targets, it's easy to somehow completely lose all of your points. Right when you think all hope is lost, giant dummies spring up that can absorb dozens of shuriken, letting you make up all your lost points just hitting the button faster than your competitor. In short, this minigame kicks your butt and then lets you win.
The other minigames are just as bad, but in less interesting ways. To give you an idea of this without describing them all, the best one is Orochimaru's Whack-A-Snake. But the best thing about it isn't repeatedly bopping snakes with a hammer, but rather all the money you get for doing so (since Whack-A-Snake is a casino game). And you'll want all the money you can muster in order to buy high-priced gifts for all the characters you encounter. Why? So you can go out on dates with them, of course!
In the third round of the competition, when the only thing left for you to do is challenge your rival, you can walk around talking to people. Or, if you have gifts they might like, you can give it to them. This will cause them to show up later, and ask you out on a date. These are generally a lot of fun, though you can go on only two dates per character. Some are sweet (Hinata's dates are very cute), some are sassy (when you go out with Temari, you basically call her fat), and others are downright weird (Kurenai wants to watch you eat vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.)