Naruto: Path of the Ninja Impressions

DS-owning Naruto fans will finally have a game to play on the go in late October.

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North American Naruto fans must be jealous of their Japanese counterparts. After all, the runaway hit martial arts anime series is so much further ahead in Japan that the characters there have just about grown to adulthood already. Meanwhile, US-based fans are still watching the original series, when Naruto and friends were still scrappy little kids. Because the Naruto games released for the Nintendo DS have so far all followed that latter part of the continuity, D3 has kindly gone back to the Game Boy Advance to bring American gamers a Naruto game for Nintendo's dual-screen handheld.

The developer has done a lot to dress up this original GBA-based game for the DS.
The developer has done a lot to dress up this original GBA-based game for the DS.

But don't think Naruto: Path of the Ninja is a quick-and-dirty GBA port job because the developers have gone in and significantly enhanced the game to make it more suitable to the DS era. For one, the smaller size of the GBA game has been expanded to fill the entirety of the DS's bottom screen, while the top is used to display your party members' stats at all times. You'll also be able to use the stylus to play "99 percent" of the game, and the stylus will come into play by necessity in the combat scenes because you'll have to use it to execute your jutsu special attacks. Lastly, some voice acting has been added to round out the production values of the game based on the DS's superior capabilities.

As mentioned, the storyline here covers the early part of Naruto, specifically from episodes 1 through 80. Purportedly, the storyline will flesh out some side plotlines only hinted at in the series, in addition to addressing the main Naruto coming-of-age story arc. You can have three characters in your party at one time from a total pool of five that you'll collect through the game. In addition to Naruto, those characters include Sakura, Neji, Sasuke, and Lee. The combat in the game is a sort of strategy-role-playing hybrid, not dissimilar from something like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. Combat proceeds in a turn-based fashion, and you can move your characters around a small combat area (sans grid) to position them for offensive or defensive advantages.

Path of the Ninja's sprite-based graphics are still Game Boy-like at heart, but it's nice to see the developer has done so much to dress up the presentation of the game for the US market. Presumably, we'll see those DS-specific games start to appear after the later part of the Naruto series hits TV sets in the US. But Path of the Ninja looks like an entertaining, portable way to keep fans occupied for now.

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