Another month, another Atlus published Naruto Shippuden game. This time around developer Tomy has released a fighter based upon later portions of the Shippuden storyline. The DS isn't well known for having competent fighters, outside of a few Bleach games that were developed by Treasure, but even those eventually devolved into a mash fest that didn't require a whole lot of finesse. Surprisingly that is not the case with Naruto Shippuden Shinobi Rumble!! (this game needs more exclamation points), which offers a surprisingly deep fighting experience that is highly customizable and offers quite a few different gameplay modes. The only question is, how much more of this Naruto craze can you handle?
Following the later parts of the Shippuden storyline, Naruto and company are out to stop the Akatsuki and their leader, Itachi Uchiha, brother of Sasuke, leader of the Hebi. These two ninja groups, along with Naruto's Hidden Leaf group round out the roster at sixteen fighters in total. What's surprising is that they are surprisingly varied and don't feel completely cookie cutter. A fine example of this is the fact that a character like Shikamaru has a juggle combo just like all the other characters, the difference is that his has to be performed in corners, mainly because his jump angle doesn't reach characters fast enough to do a full combo in the air, so he has to rely on moves that slam the enemy back to the ground to set up for combos. There's nothing complex in this game on the level of stuff like ambiguous cross-ups, so don't go in to this expecting a certain level of sophistication that other fighters offer. Little tweaks like speed and strength are quite obviously what truly sets the characters apart, but at the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference. What's also great is the option to swap out various abilities that can be unlocked by playing through one of the various gameplay modes.
If you're looking for a strictly fighting game experience then you'll want to jump right in to the Versus Battle mode. If you want to get caught up on the Naruto Shippuden story line then you can start up the story mode which contains twenty chapters of hot ninja on ninja combat. Then you have some modes that start to feel like they were grasping for straws, Personal Battles mode is a ten stage battle against a variety of opponents that ends with a little story segment and will unlock new characters, the curious thing is that you have to play through this mode in one sitting, despite the game saving after each fight, if you leave the mode then you'll have to start over. And last but not least, is the Special Missions that will allow you to unlock additional moves and content. Each character has a bingo card that is filled out with stamps seemingly at random upon completing missions. These missions range from defeating enemies under specific circumstances; with diminished health, or with special moves locked out, or collecting items in a short period of time. The difficulty of the mission will determine the number of stamps you receive, and filling out the card will unlock a few extra moves and a bunch of passive abilities that will trade defense for attack power, or give you health regenerating capabilities in exchange for offensive and defensive prowess.
Actual gameplay feels like your typical fighting game, mixed in with level structure that you'd find in something like Super Smash Brothers. It's not difficult to pick up at all, with special moves that are accessible right on the bottom screen if you have trouble doing the inputs on the wonky DS D-pad, but even then they are simple two button moves, making this game easy for anyone to pick up and play. You have two buttons for attacks, one for guarding and another for jumping. You can also perform quick recovery moves that allow you to get out of corners in a pinch which is useful when going up against three opponents at the same time, which is not uncommon. You've also got special moves that can be powered up by using a portion of your chakra meter, or you can store the meter until it is full and unleash all your power at once, allowing you unlimited use of super moves for a short period of time. It's surprising that this doesn't feel too overpowered, mainly because you can still take damage while this is going on, so if two people have let loose all their power, they aren't necessarily at an advantage. Multiplayer is available for those who want to take advantage of wireless play, though it's a shame they couldn't have it be over a shared cart, instead requiring each player to have the game.
Visually the game is serviceable, the sprites are nice and crisp, even when the game zooms in on the action, and it all moves pretty well despite limited animation sets. The levels feel a little barren and short on color variety, but they're not something you'll really be focusing on while getting your fight on. Musically this game is quite the letdown, with no sound effects from the show and music that is just boring and grating, it's kind of disappointing that they couldn't get tracks from the show that are more recognizable.
For those out there looking for a portable fighting game, you certainly could do worse than Naruto Shippuden Shinobi Rumble!!. There's a reasonably deep combat system in place and plenty of stuff do with it. It's quite easy to invest a good twenty hours and still have content locked, or you could just spoil yourself with a quick visit to GameFAQs, though I recommend taking a glance at the manual beforehand for a quick unlock. The gameplay is solid, which is key in a fighting game, and it's good to see that Tomy was able to deliver. If you've got a fighting game itch that requires some knowledge of frame traps and active frames, save your money for a 3DS and Super Street Fighter 4. If you want a fun game that you can just dive right in to then Naruto Shippuden Shinobi Rumble!! is right up your alley.