Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 has a telling title. For instance, nearly every part is a piece of the series' history. It began as Naruto: Clash of Ninja on the GameCube. When it moved to the Wii, it gained the "Revolution." And now, the sequel is Clash of Ninja Revolution 2. You can also tell a lot about the way the games themselves have progressed; instead of revamping, developer Tomy has been adding on to the unchanged core of the game for the last four years. The result is as big and disorganized as its title. The only missing piece, both in game and in name, is the word "Online." Online features might have made a good game great, but as it stands, Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 is ready to rumble in your living room.
The most significant mode is the story campaign, which takes place outside of the Naruto canon, and tells the story of an evil ex-ANBU member (ANBU being the ninja FBI) who wants to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village by turning its inhabitants against each other. Although this predictably allows the game to set up confrontations that wouldn't normally occur, the tale is more than just a pretext for battle. It's an actual story complete with colorful villains, crazy schemes, and old rivalries.
And the campaign is a real-deal campaign, not just 10 fights in a row. You'll fight your fair share of straight one-on-one matches, but you'll also find yourself up against 15 ninjas in a row, or battling two ANBU agents at once as a bad guy. In one particularly memorable fight, Naruto, Rock Lee, and Sakura must fight a brainwashed Might Guy, and you can defeat him only by finishing him off with Lee's special move. The thing is, Guy is all amped up and loco; his attacks are devastating, and your special move removes only a sliver of his life. So the challenge isn't just kicking his butt, but figuring out how to keep your teammates alive long enough to whittle down his health, and then setting him up for a special attack at just the right time. You aren't just winning a fight; you're solving a problem.
There are three problems with the campaign. First, the cutscenes are terrible. Much of the plot is conveyed through slowly scrolling text, and several conversations are between paper cutouts of the characters who bounce up and down when they talk. Second, the AI is easy to exploit. Certain characters such as Kakashi and Jiraiya have special moves that the computer never figures out, such as Jiraiya's "Now I'm Covered in Spikes-Jutsu!" This makes several fights in the campaign super easy. Third, the tutorial content is all contained within a separate mode, so if you begin the campaign straight away, you'll get your butt kicked while you figure out how the controls work. None of these are big problems (the story is still interesting, the game compensates for the weak AI, and the external tutorial mode is great); they just keep a decent campaign from being really good.
The core strength of the Clash of Ninja games has always been its fighting engine, and it's as strong as ever in Clash of Ninja Revolution 2. The game is a 3D fighter that takes place mostly on a 2D plane, like with Tekken. Though there are about a half-dozen control permutations that cover everything from the GameCube controller to just a remote, the default mode has you move with the Nunchuk and attack by wiggling the remote. You can also execute four special moves by pressing a direction on the Nunchuk plus the A button, throw kunai by pressing A alone, and execute super moves by pressing down on the remote's D pad. The basics are very easy to pick up.
Clash of Ninja 2 provides a surprisingly deep combat experience due to chakra. As you fight, chakra builds up in a meter. If you store enough, you can unleash a devastating super-jutsu (big special move, sometimes with an interactive cutscene). On the other hand, it can also be used to break yourself out of a combo; if you're getting wailed on, a single button press will teleport you away and drain a large amount of chakra. This interplay leads to tough decisions: Do you eat a big combo to save your special attack, or teleport away to fight another day? The paper bombs are another tactical wrinkle. You can throw these, but the best use is to plant one in the ground and trap your enemy between it and you. It's tactics like these that make Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 so fun to play.
However, the combat isn't without a couple of niggling flaws. For one, the game uses nearly every button between your remote and Nunchuk, and a couple of them do double duty. As a result, it's really hard to figure out how to do things on your own. The biggest issue, though, is getting turned around. For instance, if the enemy teleports behind you and you hit 'back' to block, you'll just walk forward because for you, that's the direction in which you're pressing. To turn yourself around, you have to press toward your enemy and then quickly block. Either way, you're probably going to eat a big combo if the enemy gets behind you. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. In reality, helplessly walking forward as you try to block is too frustrating for words.
Once you've gotten the hang of the combat and have played through the story mode, there's still quite a bit of content to play through. There are 36 characters total, and every single one has 10 playable missions, which are single battles of increasingly difficult circumstances. By playing through these, you'll unlock characters, bonuses, and even modes. There's also a score attack (beat 10 enemies as badly as you can) and a time attack (beat enemies as fast as you can). Altogether, Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 could keep you busy for well beyond 10 hours. There are just two problems: All of this single-player collectible content (the tutorials, the missions, even the time attacks) should have been integrated into the single-player campaign. Secondly, the missions you play through with each character are really uninteresting. The mission list is always the same, and there's never any context - just fight after fight. You'll want to grind through as many of these as you can to unlock things, but Tomy certainly could have made the process more appealing.
Finally, the production values are mixed. The game looks shabby during every cutscene, but it looks fine during combat and even better during super moves. The music is perfect for this sort of high-energy fighting game, and the voice work is fine, though you can tell that the actors weren't exactly pouring their souls into the lines. Well, except for one: Every time you start the game, Naruto screams "I'm all fired up and ready to go!" That may make certain parents and players want to throw themselves under the straight-talk express.
Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 is a fine fighting game. Its story campaign is good considering the genre, and there's plenty to do once you finish there. It is a shame, though, that the mission content isn't better, and you can't take your newly honed ninja skills online. But those issues aside, this ninja star is worth a fling.