Version tested: PlayStation 2
The PS2 sits proudly in the centre of the Playstation family photograph, nestled comfortably between its bearskin-clad pioneer father and the powerful child it spawned, the child it knows that one day soon will beat it in an armwrestle and officially make it an old man. That day is yet to come though, and judging by sales figures and the enormous amount of PS2 releases still hitting our shelves, it's some way off. For now the PS2 is still a force to be reckoned with, offering a huge variety of titles. To that end we've decided to take the Rawhide approach, rounding up a few last-gen stragglers and herding them into the EG review pen for slaughter.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2
- Developer: CyberConnect2
- Publisher: Atari
You can hardly blame Namco Bandai for only just now getting around to releasing this title over here. We're still playing catch-up with Japan on the story of the whisker-faced boy Ninja with questionable fashion sense after all, and it was only last year that the books and cartoons arrived properly on UK shores. It's still surprising to note, though, that Ultimate Ninja 2 has been spinning in Japanese disc drives since 2004. In fact, they're already set to receive their fifth title (i.e. the second one based on the Shippuunden follow-up series). We reviewed the first one back in February, and the next should be along relatively soon. With that in mind, is this a worthy stopgap?
As before, the cel-shaded manga look is impressive. The pencil drawn visuals give the 2D brawler a distinctive style, and while the cross-hatch shading sometimes makes the characters look dirty rather than dark, it stays true to its origins. Compared to the first game, number two has a slightly tinkered look to the interface and backgrounds, infusing everything together more naturally. There's not much in the way of drastic visual improvement, however.
Still, it improves on the fighter roster, from fourteen to thirty-plus characters. Most are unlocked through the Ultimate Road story mode, which pitches combinations of combatants into one-on-one battles throughout its adventure; or through additional missions, some of which feature certain conditions (e.g. not using your special moves) that must be fulfilled. All the back story bumpf that goes along with it is a little confusing for those not steeped in Naruto narrative as it doesn't really do too well in explaining who everybody is. For fans, though, it's well done. But isn't that always the case? Proper anime pedants should rejoice, too, because you have the option to avoid inappropriate dubbing and switch every last grunt and squeal back to its original Japanese.
Overall, though, it's still the same one button melee combat - bold and brash but with little variation in characters' movesets - as the first. Special moves are a mixture of button bashing and pattern matching OTT cutscenes, and offensive and defensive items litter each multi-level stage, encouraging a fast, frenetic fight around the environment. It's a game that makes up in pizzazz what it lacks in depth. If Virtua Fighter 5's a bit too much hard work for you, you'll be happily pulling off impressive moves in here with just a little practice.
Ultimate Ninja 2 certainly appears to have had a decent spit and polish when put beside the first, but it'll take until the third for the formula to be played around with more than it has been here. As it stands, it's an enjoyable plug in the market until number three, and perfectly acceptable for Naruto fans, albeit not absolutely essential for those happy with what they've got, or what they'll get in the future.