Review by ShadowGuardian9

"This game (and review) were NOT made in Japan."

Naruto is taking off like a blonde-haired, orange jumpsuit-wearing rocket here in North America. Evolving from a simple manga appearance in Shonen Jump to the Saturday night ruling anime seen today, Naruto is blasting off and his fanbase is growing exponentially. Many of Naruto's adventures are chronicled in modern video games. I can safely say that I wasn't a tremendous fan of the Clash of Ninja series, but found some good aspects of Ultimate Ninja. But what's this? A Naruto game…on the 360?! Yeah, it sounds strange. Even stranger (though in turn, more appropriate) is the fact that this game wasn't made in Japan. Instead, the folks at Ubisoft created a western rendition of the Naruto narrative, now with more anime cutscenes and even more exploration elements. Does this European take on the story of the knucklehead ninja succeed where others fail?

If the world of Naruto is still a mystery to you, you first need to pay more attention, because Naruto has become a phenomenon since its arrival in North America. It's about time you found out why those kids at your school are wearing those metal headbands. Naruto is the quintessential ninja anime focusing around a troublemaker ninja named Naruto. At birth, Naruto was “gifted” with the power of an ancient demon called the Kyuubi (Nine-tailed fox in the English dub). Naruto was quickly declared a monster at birth and spent the most of his life without a family along with being an outcast. The story follows Naruto's adventures throughout his village of Konoha and keeps tabs on his ultimate goal: to become Hokage, leader of the village, and to gain the respect that was not shown to him as a child. Naruto remains a weird guy, if the bright orange jumpsuit didn't fool you (and it really shouldn't, I mean the guy says he's a ninja). Naruto finds himself some friends in Sasuke, Naruto's rival, and Sakura, who's always chasing after Sasuke, along with his teacher, Kakashi. Naruto is known for being rather rough around the edges in true story development, but the many characters are memorable and the story is worth sticking around for, and since the game starts at the beginning of the series, getting lost isn't nearly as hard as it was before.

The game distinguishes itself from the pack by integrating exploration in between the ninja battles. The game is set in Naruto's village of Konoha, the ninja village hidden in the leaves. Naruto starts off with some simple abilities like jumping, running, and grabbing ledges. The game takes these moments to introduce Naruto and the player to the fully explorable village, which is a downright blast to run around in. Naruto's skills are introduced extremely well, just enough to learn the basics and start running around Konoha. Konoha is vast and fun to jump around through. Simply scouring the world for loose change is cool. The people will offer different missions like delivering ramen or racing against the clock. Along the way, Naruto can earn respect to make the people happy, where happy people are more at ease and will give advice more. There's a great amount of depth in the free-roam aspects of Rise of a Ninja, making an excellent alternative to the simple battling games of Naruto past.

Controlling Naruto is done with the left analog stick and controlling the camera is done with the right analog stick. Naruto can talk to characters with the X button, jump with A, and perform jutsu by holding the Left Trigger and using different analog directions. Naruto learns new skills and jutsu as the story progresses, making exploring Konoha easier and even more fun. Along the way, Naruto must complete ninja missions assigned to him by the Hokage himself. These missions can range from returning a missing bag of potatoes to being a bodyguard. The missions are pretty routine to the loyal followers of the anime, but they manage to be pretty interesting. These usually involve traveling outside of the village walls, where Naruto is more vulnerable to ambushes and traps, jumping around, using the occasional jutsu and finding treasure and such. Although these platforming elements are good ways to break up the battle, they can be pretty annoying considering that there's a small delay between pressing A and Naruto actually jumping. It's negligible in some cases, but exploring can be a bit weak with the jump controls being so messy. When Naruto meets up with a hostile warrior, the game moves into the complex world of the fighting game.

Battles take place in a traditional 3-D fighting game manner. A to jump, B to guard, X for quick attack, Y for strong attack. Right bumper to throw a kunai knife. Move with the left analog stick; perform jutsu with the L-Trigger. The combat leaves lots of room for combos and it manages to make gameplay pretty fun. Although it's not as impressive as Ultimate Ninja, there still is plenty of room to experiment. As with outside of battle, Naruto can perform jutsu by holding the L-Trigger and making hand signs by tilting the analog sticks in specific ways. How strong the attack is depends on how long you charge your chakra. Chakra can be spent on strong jutsu and recovers with time. Compared to Clash of Ninja, the combo system is much more fluid and balanced. Simple substitution jutsu demand well-timed guards and different attacks can depend upon the situation. The combo system is fully fleshed out, and although it isn't Virtua Fight caliber, it manages to be pretty compelling.

Some interesting quirks to Rise of a Ninja break up the fighting and missions well. Naruto can search for change in the cities and outside the village to earn stronger jutsu, bonus material, or a simple refueling at the ramen shop. Traveling between certain areas lets Naruto fly across the trees like in the anime. Well timed button presses and escaping traps are essential to these moments, but they can be a bit troublesome compared to simply running around Konoha. Naruto can also learn new ninja techniques like walking up walls or stronger Shadowclone jutsu to break obstacles. These are great, although you'll occasionally find a camera problem, specifically in closed areas. Along for the ride is an interesting ranking mode for Xbox Live, with a great community of Naruto fans ready for battle. There's plenty to do in Rise of a Ninja, and there's always something new to try out.

Graphically, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja stands tall as the best looking Naruto game yet. Konoha is fully realized and vibrantly portrayed. The lighting effects are excellent and the entire city looks as though it was rendered in real life. Different scenes in the Naruto anime are rendered familiarly and true to the source. The game mostly shows the story in still frames and scrolling text, but you'll occasionally see some breathtaking CG sequences that capture the moments brilliantly. Anime sequences sum up certain moments well, although they aren't fully explained in some areas. Overall, the game looks great and is a tremendous step up from past games.

The sound is a pretty mixed bag. Naruto fans will be familiar with the flute and drum sounds of the village, and different themes play in town, battle, or on a mission. The English dub voices return in the original anime sequences, but some didn't make it for the in-game cutscenes, which can be annoying when different voice actors jump back and forth between the same character. But for those who persevere through such problems will find the sound to be the anime standard, which is far from a bad thing.

+ Very nice graphics
+ Fun and easy to explore Konoha
+ Surprisingly deep combat
+ Nice online community on Xbox Live

- Camera can make exploring frustrating
- Voice acting is mixed up and distracting
- Platforming sequences feel sloppy
- Not a ton of variety in the missions

Naruto: Rise of a Ninja is hands-down the most creative of the Naruto game bunch and it manages to make some fun, if unoriginal progressions from a typical fighting game and into fully realized adventure gaming. The fleshed out world of Naruto is brilliantly portrayed, with some gorgeous eye candy and plenty of familiar aspects for the Naruto fanbase. There's plenty of interesting interaction between each of the characters, fully realizing the intricate narrative of the boy from Konoha. Although not very many of the objectives are particularly new, the different missions are plenty fun and interesting if not for a while. Exploring the village of Konoha is enough of a reason to check out Rise of a Ninja. The combat is a healthy combination of both the Clash of Ninja and Ultimate Ninja series; the jutsu are fun to pull off and challenging enough to keep battles fresh and interesting. The Xbox Live components are great for good competition and there's enough battling to do even when the story mode is complete. Although there are some moments in Rise of a Ninja that feel a bit sloppy (specifically the platforming elements and voice acting), this is definitely the Naruto adventure to get if you're a newcomer to the series. It's jam-packed with entertaining moments for newcomers and veterans. Consider it for a rental first, but if you're a Naruto fan, it's a definite purchase.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/12/07

Game Release: Naruto: Rise of a Ninja (US, 10/30/07)

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