I've completed this game four times, and still haven't put in ten hours.
Naruto: Ninja Council for Game Boy Advance was originally released in Japan in 2003, but even for its time, it must have been a bit disappointing. The game largely feels as if it could have been released on the original NES with few changes, and it is incredibly short and easy.
Ninja Council is a standard side-scrolling platformer / fighter. You can choose either Naruto or Sasuke (or later Kakashi) to beat your way through a number of minor enemies, check corners of the map for special items and weapons, and battle against other characters from the show in boss encounters. Each character performs hand-to-hand attacks with the B button, jumps with A, and tosses projectiles with R. Despite having two unused buttons on the GBA, elemental scrolls, such as fire, wind, and water, (which have absolutely nothing to do with the Naruto series) are selected by holding the R button until the weapon switches and used by releasing the button – which can be quite annoying.
Likewise (but making a little more sense), special moves are performed by holding the B button to charge a gauge and releasing the button at the right time to perform a move. Each bar that you fill represents a different move, with four moves per character. There are both red and yellow sections of the bar, and if you release the button when the bar is in the red, the move will fail, producing either a less effective version of the technique or an almost entirely useless action like Naruto letting a huge fart. Both the scrolls and specials use chakra, which builds up automatically whenever you're standing still.
The main levels are structured as simple mazes, requiring you to climb up and down a stage to find a path to the end. The various scrolls allow you to pass obstructions in your path – fire burns dead trees, earth digs holes underground, wind gives a boost to your jump, etc. Sections of the map are "darkened" so that you can only see the enemies and items in that area by entering it; thereby "darkening" the area you just came from. There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason for this, with some sections being mere corners of the map.
The enemies along the way aren't much to contend with, especially if you use specials liberally. Most of the ninjas in your path pretty much stand there and wait for you to hit them. The more problematic enemies tend to be flying creatures, which are difficult to hit, and ninjas waiting at the tops of vertical shafts, knocking you down as soon as you get to the top. In addition, some enemies simply pop up when you're right on top of them, and if you happen to knock an enemy out of its territory without killing it, it will vanish and pop up again in the original spot. Most enemies don't drop any goodies, so it really doesn't matter if you kill them or simply avoid them and go on your merry way.
At the end of each short level is a boss fight with a character from the show. The majority of bosses are easily dispatched in one of two methods: you either crowd in and attack continuously, or you dodge the opponent's attacks, build your chakra meter and hit the character with special moves over and over. You're completely invincible while charging a special, so that puts a sly defensive ace in your pocket. Even if a giant snake attacks you, it's no problem; you're concentrating. Out of the eighteen total bosses in the game, only four are challenging enough for it to be worth studying their attack patterns and forming strategies – and a handful of bosses can be dispatched almost instantly if you use your knowledge of the show to use the right moves against them.
Ninja Council's fourteen stages take about an hour to blast through all of them, or a bit longer if you try to explore every little corner. There are some rewards to encourage replay, including a free mode that allows you to go back to any stage you've played, and "night missions", which are just a slightly more difficult pallet swap of the original stages with a different set of bosses at the very end. Naruto and Sasuke have significant differences – Sasuke is faster and stronger with basic moves, while Naruto has more powerful specials. If you complete the game with both of them, you'll unlock Kakashi, who is much faster, can pull off more specials in a row, and has an insane jumping ability that allows you to simply leap over the majority of enemies and obstacles. Still, there are only so many times you can play an hour-long game, and it's easy to have everything unlocked in a weekend.
Fans of the license will probably have more to complain about than someone who has no idea what Naruto is even about. I mentioned the elemental Ninjutsu scrolls earlier, which have more of a foundation in generic game design than in the Naruto series. Story-wise, fighting your allies makes a bit of sense as a training exercise, at least until the village is set on fire and Neji still feels the need to have a friendly match. When you finally do face off against invading ninjas, they include completely out-of-context battles with Haku, Zabuza, and Orochimaru in the mountains above Konoha. Last, but not least, is the oddly poor quality of the character portraits. It appears that rather than digitizing official artwork, the designers must have copied the art by hand, because most of the character's faces simply don't look right at all. And to think there's actually an image gallery to unlock!
In all Naruto: Ninja Council is a decent amount of fun, but it is way too short and requires little thought or skill. Certainly not a title you should spend thirty bucks on.