Do you think that the storyline of Naruto: Shippuden needs less angst and more humor? Do you like cutesy chibis? Or do you really just want to see Guy Sensei in a lovely swan tutu and Neji in a schoolgirl outfit? (Don't lie, you know you do.) Naruto: Powerful Shippuden for the 3DS gives you all that and more. It’s a brawler game that takes you pleasantly by surprise, as it starts out deceptively simple and repetitive and quickly progresses into a game with a complex array of special moves, upgrades, and tag team formations.
The game is a mixture of the original Shippuden storyline and the art style and silliness of Naruto Spin Off!: Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals. Naruto and Lee share the spotlight in this game—although Lee’s levels can more often be described as “fillers.” Naruto’s missions drive the story forward and follow the original Shippuden storyline closely, while Lee’s missions are much more nonsensical and usually have little impact on the plot—for example, one mission requires you to fling Lee’s bushy eyebrows instead of ninja stars at enemies in order to win.
Yes, you read that right.
The two leads balance each other out, and since the game’s campaign requires you to switch back and forth between the characters as the game progresses, the game remains enjoyably lighthearted. Even the encounters with the Akatsuki members are played up for laughs—a run-in with Kisame (while going the bathroom) leads to a discussion of shark fin soup.
As for the game play: although we know from the anime that Naruto and Lee have very different fighting styles—with the main difference being that Lee can only use taijutsu—in the game their moves basically boil down to the same few button combinations. This can make the game feel a little repetitive at first. If you’re a serial button masher like me, you can breeze through the first few levels by mostly just abusing the Y button to death.
Stick with it though, because the game play amps up after several levels. For starters, as Lee and Naruto get stronger, they learn a wide variety of attacks that make the battles much more interesting. Lee, for example, is able to unlock his Eight Gates and deliver a serious smack down. Naruto likewise learns how to go in and out of Sage Mode.
The mission objectives also become more complex after a few levels. They change from the simple brawl format of “defeat the enemy” to “find all the scrolls in the time limit” or “pop all the balloons rigged with explosives.” My personal favorites are the levels where you have to dash to the finish line within a certain time limit while still defeating enemies, as the race format almost feels like a homage to early Sonic games.
The game also diverges from a typical brawl game by offering a wide variety of stats and weapon upgrades that look like they belong in an RPG. The game gives you the option of simply beefing up your health meter or chakra, or investing your XP in more deadly ninja tools and increased status ailment immunity. You can even power up your teammates to reduce the time it takes for them to recharge for another attack. Better yet, if you decide you don’t like an upgrade—like the hilarious but altogether useless furry eyebrow ninja stars, for example—you can always take the XP back and invest it in something else. That kind of flexibility in and of itself in a brawler game is pretty impressive.
One of the best aspects of the game though is acquiring more “supporters,” or teammates, and deciding which ones to put in your party. Supporters are Naruto’s fellow ninjas that you can summon into battle, and each character has their own unique attack and support benefits: Sakura smashes her fists into enemies while providing medical backup, Shino’s bugs poison the enemy, Ino’s attacks confuse them, and Kakashi’s lighting tears up everyone in its path.
Depending on who you choose to be in your party, your battles may vary greatly: Kakashi, for example, is so powerful that most of my major battles were done in under a minute. Tenten, on the other hand, sometimes messes up her scroll summons, meaning that instead of receiving aid, you might find yourself running away from a waterfall of ninja stars that she accidentally sends your way.
If all of this isn’t enough customization for you, there’s also a bit of gambling you can get in on before battles. There is an option called “personal rules,” where you can decide on whether you want to do things such as “defeat this level in under a minute” or “receive zero damage.” If you succeed in following your “personal rule,” you nab some extra XP.
All these extra features create a varied and interesting gaming experience. Although the brawls might sometimes feel a little repetitive, there are enough special moves, supporters, and upgrades to keep the fights interesting. The solid graphics and silly humor don’t hurt either—after all, it’s not every day that you get to see Neji in a schoolgirl outfit.
NARUTO Spin-Off: Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals artwork and elements © K.TAIRA, M.KISHIMOTO/SHUEISHA, TV TOKYO, PIERROT
Namco Bandai Games Website
by Gretchen Smail