Naruto 4 is the best multiplayer game on GameCube. That's right, I went there!
In my own circle of hardcore gamer friends, Naruto Gekitou Ninja Taisen (GNT) 3 and now GNT 4 have competed for our time on game nights against such rough competition as Smash Bros., LAN-ready Halo 2, Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, Guitar Hero, etc, and has won out more than enough times to be notable. In fact, due to the sheer fun of it, I'm ready to say that Naruto 4 is the best game on GameCube.
Naruto Gekitou Ninja Taisen is a series of fast-paced fighting games based on the popular manga and anime available in Japan. It's popular enough that you can get super cute Naruto night-caps in Japanese convenience stores. Now it's also on American TV, and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it's going to get terribly popular here, too, if it can't be classified as such already. Naruto GNT 4 features 37 characters by my count, all true to their manga & anime counterparts with the same voice actors, catchphrases, and signature jutsu techniques.
Like many of the best (and more conventional) fighting games, the Naruto Gekitou Ninja Taisen series is essentially the same game each time, improved and expanded with each sequel. In fact, the first four paragraphs of the Naruto 3 review could have easily been smuggled into this review under the cover of night, and no one would have been the wiser. For those residing in the "no-click-zone" of internet apathy, I'll reiterate what made Naruto 3, and now Naruto 4, so great.
Naruto 4 is very easy to get into with its simple controls and instantly gratifying gameplay, but much like other great multiplayer games, its true subtleties come out after time and experience, and the game only gets better. Each of the nearly forty characters has received plenty of attention from the designers, both in appearance and play mechanics. Even though characters have simple chain combos that use the 'A' and 'B' buttons and single-button super moves, tense games of timing, prediction, and guile (not the sonic-boom kind) rule the gameplay. And in the realm of four-player fighting games, only one other series has gameplay this good: Smash Bros. Naruto 4 has a special advantage in that it has a greater variety of characters, a tag mode, and isn't five years old.
The "three-man cell" tag mode is new to the Naruto series. It's largely similar to tagging systems that have been successfully integrated into other fighters like Tekken and Marvel vs. Capcom. Some teams have special jutsu combinations that ought to excite anyone who has torrented a hundred episodes of the show (check out the Sannin characters' team-up jutsu!). With three-man cell, players can't just rely on their favorite single character anymore, so they must look for new strategies and clever character combinations.
New characters include Kimimaro and the sound village crew, Kisame (alias "that shark headed dude"), Kabuto, and additional forms of Naruto, Sasuke, and Hinata. Characters from previous games have essentially nothing for new moves, but tweaks and balance changes from Naruto 3 can be seen here and there. (100% of the old characters have returned, no matter how dead they are in the show.) On the other hand, all of the characters have new chaining tricks, by means of the new combo-cancelling feature. New features like running while side-stepping and two different combo escapes also change things for many of the old characters, especially the previously retardedly-powerful characters (like Itachi and the top-tier crew). The option of having a combo escape that doesn't hurl your character right back at the enemy with an attack is, in particular, a subtle-yet-dramatic improvement. Simple additions like these make an already excellent game much, much better.
Naruto 4 features a healthy selection of game modes. For single players, there are Story, Survival, Time Attack, Score Attack, and Practice, available in regular one-on-one or three-man-cell flavors. Two players can play co-operatively against the computer in a couple of modes, too. Of course, the serious business comprises of head-to-head and multiplayer matches. Three-and-four player crews can battle in a big free-for-all or on teams (two-on-two matches are incredibly fun). There are some extra perks, too, like ninja files (good luck reading the Japanese, though) and a sound & music test.
There are but a couple of minor annoyances in Naruto 4. There's no option to use the control pad, which sucks for owners of Hori digital controllers. Also, the character selection is no longer a convenient grid, but rather a giant rotating wheel thing that hangs while it loads the character models that it insists on showing. And, last of all, while the ninja missions are fairly interesting (they are randomly offered on the main menu), it just takes way too long to unlock characters; you need to complete 120 missions to get all of them. At least in Naruto 3, money could be earned by playing multiplayer, but unlocking everyone in Naruto 4 requires hours and hours worth of single-player missions. Really, though, once everybody is unlocked, these are tiny problems at best.
Naruto 4 is the best fighting game on GameCube. It's THE best game on GameCube. It's the new Smash Bros. It's a fantastic fighting game, accessible but complex, and it's four-player. Personally, I wouldn't take chances on waiting for an English version when it's this good. Click here to order this awesome game from our sugar daddies at Lik-Sang!