The Naruto anime series is a long running and hugely popular phenomenon. As with many children’s crazes, the young, orange-clad, big-mouthed ninja in training can be found everywhere, with enough merchandise to sink a large oil tanker flying off shelves the world over.
Oddly enough, though, Naruto isn’t your usual kids ‘toon. While not exactly up there with ultra-violent and far too often pornographic Manga, Naruto’s adventurea are a little more serious and often even quite creepy for a show with the demographic it attracts, meaning that the show does attract older viewers too (come on, you know who you are!). Thankfully for fans, young and old, some of the recent games to star Naruto have actually been very good, especially Ubisoft’s recent Xbox 360 titles, Rise Of A Ninja and The Broken Bond.
Naruto: Shippuden Legends Akatsuki Rising is, as you’d expect, not up to the power of the full-blown console outings, but this isn’t something Bandai Namco has attempted. Instead, this portable Naruto adventure is all about pure combat and arcade action, rather than an open world adventure.
As Naruto (and eventually other fighters) you progress from area to area fighting reams of bad guys and bosses while levelling up and learning more powerful moves and special abilities. Between each combat area there are plenty of cut-scenes, which are, despite being on PSP, all fully voiced by the original Naruto cast.
Unlike the console versions, combat here is in full 3D, with the player running around large open areas, Dynasty Warriors-style. Unlike Dynasty Warriors, however, the levels are often a little sparse, with only a small number of foes attacking at any one time.
Controlling your fighter is easy enough, and along with a useful lock-on function, you can attack, jump, dash, throw shuriken and use ninjutsu skills with ease. The camera is surprisingly nimble too, even with the PSP’s oft-criticised single analogue stick, and you always feel in full control.
Unfortunately, good controls only make for part of the enjoyment, and if the game itself isn’t all that interesting, then it always falls a cropper. Now, that’s not to say Naruto: Shippuden Legends is boring, not at all. But the combat isn’t really all that great. For a game based on a license that revolves so much around combat and learning new moves, this is very odd indeed, and the scuffles here are just a little limp.
While the assortment of characters and special moves is great, you soon end up button mashing and rely on brute force to overcome your foes. It’s also far too easy to counter enemy attacks, and the magic bar for performing Jutsus is overly generous, meaning that you’ll almost always have powerful moves available to smite your foes. This makes the game a little easy for more experienced scrappers, and actual challenging moments are few and far between. This is a far cry from the often hard-as-nail fights in the recent console games.
While not in combat the story is buffered by numerous cut-scenes, and for Naruto fans it’s great taking part in the comic legend. Characters are all present and correct, with great attention to detail given the PSP’s limitations. There are some RPG elements too, and you can unlock new Jutsus and customise each fighter’s abilities with power scrolls and the like, so whilst the game appears shallow at first, some depth does eventually appear.
Special mention should also go to the game’s well-implemented ad-hoc multiplayer, allowing friends to team up and take on the story and other game modes together. Other game modes include mission mode, combat mode, survival and Akatsuki mode, which is unlocked after completing all Scenario modes (the main story). These modes all add to the longevity, and so there’s plenty of offer.
Great presentation and plentiful games modes aside, the fairly dull combat system, and small, often empty levels aren’t going to appeal to everyone. I found the game drifting into tedium more often than not, and as I worked my way through scenario after scenario of samey battles, I began to tire quickly. Because of this it’s safe to say that non-Naruto fans will find that their money will be far better spent elsewhere, and that there are superior scrappers around for the PSP. Naruto fans looking to relive the Kazekage Retrieval story arc may want to give this a go, though. Just don’t expect a deep or flexible combat system.
Naruto Shippuden: Legends – Akatsuki Rising is out now.