A chibi Naruto game that downplays the austerity? Believe it!
Until I heard of this game, I wasn't even aware Naruto had a spin-off anime series. It's this spin-off, known as Naruto SD (short for super-deformed, a small, chubby caricature style in anime) that the game is based on. It scraps the serious action elements of the main series in favour of slapstick comedy and lighthearted interactions among the cast.
The art might be simplified but it looks fine.
The story lightly recaps the events that took place in the original manga storyline, then loosely follows the events of the post time-skip Shippuden series. From there, the game splits into two paths following main character Naruto Uzumaki and fan favourite Rock Lee. While it initially gives the impression of a choice, as the game quickly points out, you must play both characters' storylines in order to progress. As you navigate the mission-based map screen, you will come across locked missions requiring certain amounts of keys you can only obtain by completing specific missions in both character maps. This story-swapping element plays a role in the game's narrative as well, as missions in one character's map often directly reference events happening in the other character's plot. With a story revolving around only two of the show's characters, the lack of a multiplayer battle mode or any additional playable characters is a little saddening, but understandable.
Guy-sensei proposes some extracurricular activities.
The game presents missions on single-screen, side-scrolling backdrops, and gives you a specific task to accomplish, such as beating the required amount of opponents or clearing obstacles. Occasionally, a race-style mission appears, requiring the player to traverse multiple rooms or long, scrolling obstacle courses before the time runs out. The controls are simple, with a standard attack, double-jump, block, dash and a few context-sensitive attack combos. You unlock a dozen or so support characters throughout the game, and can call them in for some additional move variations in battle.
Each level includes a series of bonus challenges spread across a range of difficulties, requiring you to replay missions several times to complete all the goals. These can be as simple as clearing the level within a time limit or winning a battle without taking damage, but the increasing experience rewards are essential to leveling up Naruto and Rock Lee's vital stats and attack power, and ultimately opening up new missions. Be prepared for some sudden difficulty spikes here and there, and level up as often as possible.
Thanks, Kakashi-sensei. You've ruined boobs forever.
The levels are never longer than a few minutes each with a quick,
pick-up-and-play style, but there is a lot of repetition between the
missions. Similarly, beyond the story-driven character appearances and
boss battles, you'll encounter many palette-swapped sprites before the
journey is over. Different-coloured animal enemies are one thing, but
enemy ninjas from each of the series' villages all look exactly the same
and when you're playing the fifth mission in a row that pits you
against 10 of the exact same enemy at once, it starts to weigh on the
experience. It's a shame more variety wasn't used in the characters'
designs, because the art is adorable and the animations, while simple,
are pleasant to watch and fit the character style well. The 3D effect is
also used well, with simple background layering effects and on-screen
HUDs floating in front of the action. It looks nice and never intrudes.
The inclusion of the original voices is an important factor for any anime-based game, and Powerful Shippuden delivers on that front. The game lacks an English voice option, but the original Japanese cast members from the show play all their roles in the game, and the sound is crystal clear. Likewise, the game's soundtrack is full of catchy and exciting tunes capturing that modern-classic Japanese music feel that makes it sound like they came right from the show.
Pretty tough for a guy who can't use any ninjutsu.
The real selling point for the game, however, is the dialogue and interactions between cast members. The exchanges that take place between the characters are often hilarious and entirely silly, with plenty of awkward misunderstandings, corny puns and in-jokes about the fact they're in a video game. The personalities of the characters are near identical to their serious anime counterparts, and the writing is top-notch.
In the end, we're presented with a game that looks fine, sounds lovely, reads excellently, and plays kind of blandly. It has around 100 missions and a decent pool of characters from the Naruto universe that fans of the show can catch up with, as long as they can handle some repetition along the way.