Naruto games have covered many genres over the last several years, from fighting games to RPG’s mixed with action-adventure elements. The console versions of the Shippuden series are known to generally be solid fighting games, but the content hasn’t seen much updating due to the games closely following the storyline of the TV show. After all is said and done, Naruto games tend to be strongest when they are simple beat ‘em up games done well. Naruto: Powerful Shippuden is here to show what it can do on the 3DS. The portable systems have yet to see a well-done Naruto game but Powerful Shippuden is not that bad at all as the brawling found in it is pretty good.
Lets start with the story, as this game isn’t exactly based on the Shippuden series. Powerful Shippuden finds its story based on the Naruto spin-off series Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals. You are given the option of choosing either Rock or Naruto. Both story lines intersect at several points, but they are different enough that it’s worth playing both. While Naruto’s story hits fairly close to the normal Shippuden series, Rock Lee’s episodes are ridiculous. Most of the time the story doesn’t make much sense and it’s all played off as a huge joke. I think it works well considering the Naruto series is known for its light humor. It’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously while keeping the gameplay solid.
The humor is childish, but much of that ties into the oddly deformed art style. Characters have enormous heads and there expressions are insane. The cutscenes have characters over reacting every few seconds, which actually makes for some good entertainment. During gameplay the characters are well animated and the chibi art style works well for the game, as well as for the 3DS and its hardware. The 3D is neat, though it never adds that much to the entire look of the game. That being said, the art style carries the visuals enough already.
As already mentioned, both Rock and Naruto have separate story lines and they draw upon a variety of different techniques during combat making them even more separate experiences. Rock is limited to physical attacks, though he has a lot of attacks that are available to him. Naruto has the ability to use Ninjutsu. Ninjutsu works much like spells would be used in any other combat based game. All in all, no matter which character you’ve chosen to play as, it all boils down to basic brawling. The supporting story in each scenario changes of course, but generally enemies appear and you engage them with your arsenal of abilities.
Brawlers as a whole have a tendency to become repetitive quickly. Powerful Shippuden does have a few cards up its sleeve to counter this fact. Teammates can be summoned into the action to fight alongside you. You can also utilize the touchscreen to change modes, such as changing Naruto in his Nine Tails form. Lastly, you are given an options menu that allow you to divvy up gained experience points across six different paths of advancement.
The RPG elements that are found in this game surprised me, as I didn’t expect to see RPG-like character progression in a title like this. The RPG aspects in Powerful Shippuden really help add some longevity to the game. It allows you to find a specific style that suits your brawling. I spent quite some time messing around with investing points into different categories and observing the outcome. You can raise your character’s base stats, invest the points in upgraded ninja tools, increase your ally’s strength, increase your defensive power, or extend your chakra bar. The best part is that the game never locks you into a certain path. You’re always given the option to reset your points and try something different.
The comedy and art style are easily the strongest features in Powerful Shippuden, closely followed by the combat. Unfortunately, as fun as the combat is it does fall into repetitive missions structure, and after killing loads of generic bad guys things can become stale. The mixture of boss fights and cutscenes that advance the plot help prevent boredom, though the meat of the game is really the constant brawling.
I should also note that early on I found certain missions to be unnecessarily difficult because there were no explanation for what certain power-up items did, and this was a bit frustrating. For an example some missions are timed, giving you only a minute on the clock to complete the level. You’re told at the beginning you can increase the time you have by picking up icons, but they never show you what the icon looks like. This just seemed like a flaw in game design to me. After a few failed attempts in which I was grabbing the wrong items, I finally noticed the rocks with numbers on them. The numbers displayed how many hits they would take before they broke, and when they did, items would burst out providing more time. Things like this contribute to some frustration of the game.
Though Naruto: Powerful Shippuden is not a perfect brawler, it’s certainly a fun fighting/action game. The RPG elements like stat boosting and character building are something that more fighting/action games should implement. While I did find that the humor to be a bit flat at times, I also found that it was nice to play a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Rock Lee’s silly tale hasn’t made an appearance in any games yet, so this is something that is fresh for fans of the series too. At the end of the day Naruto: Powerful Shippuden delivers a fun and unique brawling experience that 3DS gamers and Naruto fans alike shouldn’t miss out on as it is fairly entertaining.