Review by Arkrex
"Money-making no JUTSU!"
There once was a young boy named Naruto who dreamed of becoming an ultimate ninja. Day after day he trained long and hard, under the scorching heat of the desert sun, within the dense foliage of an ancient forest, and aboard a sailing ship traversing stormy waters. Life was hard, but at least he had the company of his best friends, Sakura and Sasuke, as well as a well-stocked inventory of instant ramen.
Then one day something unimaginable happened. Naruto and his buddies came across a strange contraption with 2 screens. It was a Nintendo DS. The strange device beckoned them to come closer, and with immoral intent it persuaded them to suspend their journey, promising a King's wealth in return for their allegiance. They collaborated with the money-making machine to produce a videogame entitled Naruto: Ninja Council 3. Fans of ninja-boy lapped it up and the venture sold better than sushi. However the quality tasted worse than cold miso soup. But Naruto could'nt care less; he's now a rich bastard living the high life, and sadly we're here to pick up his trash.
Ninja Council 3 is not your average anime adventure. Instead of going through its 62 levels in a linear fashion and following in the footsteps of key plot points, this game leaves the progression in your hands. There's a catch in that you have to complete all the rank D missions before attempting the rank C ones and so forth. This means that while you can temporarily skip the few that cause some trouble, you will never unlock the next batch until you perfect every one that is currently available. If you are worried that the story would be ripped apart with such freedom of choice, rest assured that there is barely even one here to begin with. If you are not familiar with the misadventures of the trio, you'll be none the wiser at the end of the game.
The first lot of missions will have you jumping around and punching up blocks, bats, baddies and other Naruto-fodder. Each one is self-contained and there is only ever a single objective, be it to find 10 scrolls, defeat 10 wolves, or pass through 10 checkpoints within a limited time. As I mentioned earlier, there is no story and hence no real purpose for each of these events. Thus it all becomes boring incredibly quick once you pick up on the fact that all the levels play out in roughly the same way, but with slightly different backdrops, music and enemies.
The controls are simple, but horrible to use. By mapping the jump and attack buttons to A and Y respectively (can't be changed by the way), your thumb will have to bounce around like an uncoordinated fool in order to perform an action that should come naturally. The mission that requires you to eliminate 30 bats will have you crying at how hard it is to jump and attack without looking like a dork and knocking your noggin straight into the blind flyers. The ninjas here are all able to perform a super jump, but they are unable to directly do so diagonally having to momentarily stop before lift off. As a result, there will be times when you leap across a chasm only to fall short because you had to let go of all the momentum from your run-up.
One of the worst things about Ninja Council 3 is what happens when you are stunned by an enemy, even if you so much as touch the backside of a small spider. You get that window of invincibility as you do with virtually every single game ever made, but as soon as you pick yourself up you are once again vulnerable to feather-touch-beat-downs. This means you can be juggled on end, and there isn't any way to get out of it until you eventually fall far enough from any enemies. Luckily the same thing happens with your opponents. In fact, there is one stage where you have to protect a defenseless ninja named Gaara, and this is a very difficult task seeing as the stiff controls don't help when a relentless and invincible Sasuke is hammering away at you both. In such a case, the best method for success is to knock Sasuke into a corner where a tiny spider seems to have gotten lost. The spider will continuously stun the raging Sasuke, and all you have to do is sit patiently until time runs out. Glitches like this happen a lot and are easy to start, and given that the AI has the IQ of a peapod (don't think too much on that one) victory is easily achievable at any difficulty level if you just capitalise on their stupidity.
Later on the levels will be geared towards full-arena battles, ditching the collect-a-thons, but not for the better. Here the game looks like the best DS fighting game never released outside Japan, Jump! Super/Ultimate Stars, but it sure as hell doesn't play like it. Again your sole goal is usually to bring your opponent into submission. Naruto and a whole heap of other characters can be used in any of the missions, but apart from cosmetic differences, they all play the same. They all have a basic canned string, a launcher (don't expect any aerial combos here though) and the ability to teleport in and out.
There are also special abilities called Jutsu that can be unleashed once you have built up sufficient Chakra power. Each fighter has their own unique Jutsu straight out of the show and they are generally well done and fun to watch, for the first few times that is; you cannot skip these sequences, and after seeing Naruto make clones of himself or Sasuke breathe fire out of his mouth for the umpteenth time, one starts to yawn a bit. You are also able to mix and match Jutsu so that even if you don't want to part with your homey Sasuke, you can still make use of Sakura's healing ability. You can actually fully customise your chosen warrior with other people's Jutsu, which further goes to show that every character is essentially a clone of one another. Every fight that takes place is therefore pretty much always the same: jab your opponent for chip damage, scoot away if low on health, and then then once your Chakra bar is full, release whatever Jutsu that you have available.
When you initiate a Jutsu, there will be a brief mini-game that you'll have to successfully complete in order to bring out the power within. This entails spinning circles on the touch screen, sliding horizontally or vertically as fast as possible, tapping out selected Japanese Kanji symbols, or just puffing into the DS microphone. These diversions don't make the slightest amount of sense. They weren't in the aforementioned JSS/JUS games, but it looks like the developers were dying to put in some touch screen gimmicks here, and regrettably they aren't any good.
Ninja Council 3, having a great license to back it up and all, seems to think that it can get away with boatloads of quantity to make up for the questionable quality. 62 missions to plough through is a hefty lot, but with many of them taking all of 1 or 2 minutes to complete (one level was over within 3 seconds!) 4-5 hours is all you'll need to spend to see it through to 100%. There are a handful of frustrating levels that are made more difficult by the sloppy controls, and it is annoying that repeating failed attempts means you have to go through the entire process of selecting the mission, your character, your Jutsu, and then confirming everything again; this must have lengthened the game a fair bit...
As if to make up for an unsatisfactory single player game, there is also wireless multiplayer which lets you hold battle royales with mates that also have the game. All that these fights boil down to is waiting it out and then unleashing your Jutsu to cause massive damage. If you are expecting a crazy ride like JSS/JUS you aren't getting it here. Apart from that there's nothing more to see or do once you've finished (or grown sick of) the main game.
So Ninja Council 3 is a mixed-(rubbish)bag of short, repetitive, glitched-out missions, with no story to drive it forward. And the poor controls do no favour to the primitive gameplay and wack mechanics. Fans however, will be happy for 3 reasons:
1) Naruto and the gang look great as detailed 2D sprites and the Jutsu can look impressive as well (but it still looks like a GBA game)
2) Battles from the anime are recreated with the player in full control (but they still suck ass to play)
3) There is finally a Naruto game for the DS that can be played in English (but it isn't any good).
If you can't tell your Gaara from your mascara, leave this in the trashcan where it belongs.
Sound & Music 6
Longevity 4-5 hours
Difficulty Fairly Easy (if you know how)
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 06/04/07
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