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Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Naruto Powerful Shippuden

Nintendo 3DS

Naruto Powerful Shippuden
Anime icon Naruto and the fan-favored Rock Lee share the lead role and grow giant heads in this action game spawned by Naruto Spin-Off: Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals.
One finds it difficult to criticize a game like Naruto Powerful Shippuden. It's a lightweight cartoon confection, a harmless trinket that's as much a part of the Naruto merchandising empire as the keychains and tote bags and once-ubiquitous headbands. The 3DS game draws from the Naruto Spin-Off: Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals series, and it fishes out the same species of irreverent humor delivered by huge-headed incarnations of popular Naruto characters. It mixes this into a side-scrolling action game, and it never quite asks to be taken seriously.

Naruto Powerful Shippuden adeptly shrinks down much of its source material into a form compact and comical. Naruto and Rock Lee traverse two intersecting storylines with some familiar events, and it's all conveyed with super-deformed versions of the two heroes and the rest of the franchise's major characters. Each stage leads to a specific challenge and, more often than not, some goofball chit-chat among the cast.

In the game's side-scrolling levels, Naruto and Rock Lee outfit themselves with easily accessed techniques, including aerial shuriken tosses and more elaborate signature attacks. The enthusiasm of it all is at first infectious, as the large, colorful sprites bound across two-dimensional battlefields and whip out cuter versions of their ninja techniques. Developer Inti Creates animates everything with a wide-eyed gusto, and even the generic opponents get special attention when they're pelted off the screen.

The appeal can't last, though. Despite the game's extensive lineup of missions, they don't take long to repeat themselves. In between the boss battles and other tasks of supposedly great import, the two ninja heroes will break balloons, survive an enemy onslaught, and defeat a set number of foes many times. While the assortment of enemies isn't bad in terms of design, Inti Creates stayed basic with Naruto and Rock Lee's attacks, and it's sometimes difficult to see just what they're hitting with their stubby little arms and legs.

The pre-mission prep work at least involves some thought. In a common dose of RPG elements, each battle brings experience points that players can dump into Naruto and Rock's attacks, defense, and life meters. In a less common dose, players can siphon out experience points and move them from one category to another. More stat-boosting material can be had by meeting self-imposed challenges, such as beating a mission without using any special moves.

Those touches aside, Naruto Power Shippuden seems underfed in gameplay. There's a healthy lineup of supporting characters: Sai, Sakura, Kakashi, Shino, Tenten, Ino, Might Guy, and several others. Yet only Naruto and Rock Lee (and an alternate form of Naruto) are fully playable. The others are mere assistants in battle, popping in to dispense destruction or some power-up at the press of a shoulder button. Players can stock three such supporters in many of the missions, but they're still guest stars and cheerleaders at best. Nor is there a multiplayer mode where all of the sideline-sitters are playable.

Naruto Powerful Shippuden at least captures the same tone of its source material. Most of the story scenes find characters bantering, bickering, and showing a side of Naruto far from the usual ninja sturm-und-drang. A shame that most of the humor follows the predictable aren't-we-wacky pattern of anime comedy, in which characters debate some delusional idea until the most level-headed of the bunch (usually Sakura or Tenten) gets violently exasperated with all the nonsense. Some fans might be put off by the lack of English voiceovers, but they'll also consider that Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals isn't yet dubbed.

And so Naruto Powerful Shippuden delivers the typical half-decent derivative of anime success. It shows up, punches in, does its job, and leaves few impressions. Naruto fans may take away something from it all, yet the unconverted won't be won over by its limited range. Yes, it's hard to hate a game like this, and it's also hard to remember it.

Overall : C
Graphics : B
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : C
Presentation : C+

+ Approachable and suitably upbeat for Naruto fans
Of little interest to anyone else

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