Uzumaki Naruto is a boy living in the Konoha village of ninjas. During his childhood he didnâ€™t have a whole lot of friends, because early on he was possessed by an immensely powerful demon fox. The anime series and the manga has told the story of him growing up with kids his age, the ninja-friends he makes, his ninja training, good times, and bad times. At this point weâ€™re served mainly â€œfillerâ€ episodes, so those in search of some alternative Naruto action should take a look at the recent Gamecube game.
The game is obviously the fourth iteration in the series, which basically lets you fight as just about any character, against just about any character. Want to fight Sasuke in evil form, as the fourth hokage? No problem. Additionally there are quite a few specialized modes, and a great load of things to unlock, such as levels, characters, character info, and more.
After booting the game, youâ€™re treated to a nice introduction sequence. It doesnâ€™t really show off any interesting story bits, so it can easily be skipped. At the main menu youâ€™re in for a surprise thatâ€™ll probably only excite those that can read written Japanese very well. You see, the only western characters youâ€™ll find are numbers. Itâ€™s impossible to guesstimate much at all, so you pretty much have to try the various menu sections and see what happens. The only indicator is a small image that pops up for each section, so if you have fair memory and imagination you should at least quickly find the main modes, where youâ€™ll spend the majority of the time.
One of the big features in Naruto 4 is the ability to not only play as one character versus another, but also three versus three and two versus two at the same time. The closest thing to a story mode is a mode where you select three characters and work your way towards a tournament of sorts, the one thing you can count on seeing in just about every anime to date.
As all of the text is basically encrypted, youâ€™re mostly left appreciating the game mechanics. I suppose the dialogues revolve around ramen, doing oneâ€™s best, power hunger, and cheap jokes. Fortunately the gameplay is quite good. Not counting unlockable characters you can choose from no less than twenty characters. Each of these has just about every signature move, though it appears that Narutoâ€™s â€œsexy ninjutsuâ€ isnâ€™t included. There are two basic attack buttons that alone let you do quite a few attacks pr character. X is used to perform special attacks, if your chakra meter is filled up sufficiently. Y is used for grappling / throwing moves. The left trigger teleports you behind the enemy, but again, only if your chakra meter allows it. This is useful if you can see the enemy is about to do a long, painful combo-move that youâ€™ll probably not be able to dodge. Finally thereâ€™s the Z button, which is used to trade places with another person in your three person team. This also uses a bit of chakra, so you canâ€™t just hop back and forth the entire match. Since the chakra recharges you could for instance â€œhop outâ€ when a character is low on health, have it recharge his or her chakra, and then â€œhop inâ€ and quickly do a special attack, possibly removing as much as half of the enemyâ€™s remaining life.
As you might understand the depth of the game is much focused on good use of abilities that use chakra. A special attack can literally turn the tide, and you will see later in the game that what separates the weak from the good is the ability to block normal attacks and move out of range of the special attacks.
Besides the modes Iâ€™ve mentioned youâ€™ll also find a tutorial, practice, and various sections that probably make a whole lot more sense to the Japanese.
Similarly to the other recent import title Bleach for Gamecube, the graphics in Naruto 4 is cel-shaded, though slightly differently. Where in Bleach they focused on a style more along the lines of the anime, here we see something like the anime, only in 3D. It certainly feels more alive, because of even if looks somewhat aliased the developers put great care into the various attacks. Gara, as an example, is quite impressive, because he can use his sand attacks in many impressive and certainly effective ways. It looks organic, and it feels that way too.
The special attacks will, provided your opponent didnâ€™t dodge it, play an animated sequence that you canâ€™t skip. These are quite nice, and can provide a nice surprise the first time you see them; a bit like the fatalities in Mortal Kombat, sans blood.
In terms of audio Naruto 4 does really well. All of the characters from the show voiced the counterparts here, and sound just as youâ€™d hope and expect they would. The story elements seem to take place relatively early in the overall storyline (for those who have watched/read it from the start), so for instance Naruto sounds more childish than he does in the more recent episodes. The music certainly does sound like it couldâ€™ve come out of Konoha somewhere, but personally I didnâ€™t enjoy it as much as the official soundtrack. While the songs are reasonably varied some of them just donâ€™t sound appropriate for a game where the goal is to beat the snot out of the opponent. You can say it makes it a bit too â€œHAPPY HAPPY VIOLENCEâ€ at times and it shouldnâ€™t.
Finally, the sound effects also sound every bit as good as youâ€™d expect. Even though the sounds sometimes sound as if they came out of the box of generic sound effects they do serve their purpose. One could wish for more bass and dynamic range at times, but it couldâ€™ve been worse.
Multiplayer is fun too, of course, because of the many modes and character combinations.
As an import title this should be worth ordering for fans of the show. I really wish at least some western words couldâ€™ve been used, so that you wouldnâ€™t have to spend as much time in the menus, and things like the unlockable character info would actually make sense.
Naruto 4 scores quite well in graphics, audio, and gameplay, even if itâ€™s in a bit of a different league than, for instance, Dead or Alive 4. Even so, itâ€™s an enjoyable game and more entertaining than the current episodes.