While North America has recently been enjoying the adventures of Uzumaki Naruto and his fellow Team 7 comrades for the past year, in Japan they have been running strong for over five years. During that time, both Bandai and Tomy have released several games based on the series over every platform, save for the Xbox and Wonderswan. Hell, there's three games on the GBA itself, and a third game coming to the GameCube later this year. The PS2 recently received the latest Naruto title, called Naruto Narultimate Hero 2, with several improvements amongst other things.
Those who are familiar with the manga or anime series will instantly recognize all of the characters in the game. There are over 30 characters to choose from, all of whom have made a significant impact in the Naruto universe. Everyone from old opponents such as Haku and Zabuza to newer foes like Uchiha Itachi are included, complete with attacks and special techniques (called Jutsus) that are true to their persona. Of course, the core group of Genins (lower rank ninjas) that make up the majority of the cast are here as well. Characters who didn't make the cut in the first game are now included, so fans of TenTen, Choji and Shino can play as them. The latter character in particular is totally awesome to play. Shino is a ninja who uses tiny insects to devour an opponent's energy source (called Chakra), and all of his attacks are based around this. He summons a swarm of insects to consume you, and even launches you into the air with them, instead of using traditional uppercuts like everyone else does. Of the new characters, most fans will love the chance to play as Uchiha Itachi, the evil badass of the game, as well as some of the more powerful characters like Tsunade and The Third Hokage. There's even a guest appearance by Kazahana Dotou, who was the main villain in the Naruto movie that was released this past summer.
If you have played past Bandai games such as Ultimate Muscle, you'll be familiar with the cel-shaded look of Narultimate Hero 2. If you had to describe the visuals of this game in one word, "dynamic" would be fitting. The characters are full of personality, not to mention the environments that you battle in. In fact, many of the stages can be hazardous to you as well, with many natural disasters roaming about, such as tornadoes and quick sand pits, and huge, lumbering snakes that will swallow you whole before spitting you out. The stages come in a variety of sizes, and some of them are really enjoyable to fight in. My personal favourites are the town-based arenas, where you can knock characters into various objects in the area to reveal powerups and other items. Where the graphics really stand out are during the interactive cutscenes that happen when you use a special jutsu. Mimicking memorable scenes from the series, Bandai also threw in some new moves for several characters that you wouldn't see in the manga/anime.
Narultimate Hero 2 isn't exactly Virtua Fighter, but there is quite a lot of depth to the game for those who want a challenge. You'll be using every button in the game while you formulate your strategy of attacking and fending off attacks at the same time. The X button lets you jump and double jump, while the Circle button is your primary attack button. Square allows you to throw projectiles that you have, and Triangle activates your Chakra so that you can use your special jutsus. The L1/R1 triggers are used to cycle through projectiles, while L2/R2 lets you block, as well as perform a substitution technique if you have perfect timing. Every character has their own 'real-time' jutsus by double-tapping up or down with the attack button, and all of them have varying effects. Some are offensive manuevers, while others are used for countering attacks. If there was one complaint we would levy at the game, it's that substitution is far too easy to pull off in the game, resulting in a lot of safe and turtley play if you are fighting against a skilled opponent. Of course, the game isn't overly complex, but gamers will appreciate the ability to use not only attacks, but the arenas themselves in order to put the hurt on foes. Throwing someone off a cliff or into a pool of poisonous liquid can be the determining factor between a win and a loss here. It's just too bad that competitive play often degrades into a bout of 'who can substitute better'.
On the other hand, one of the best things about the game is that you can play through the RPG mode and once you have finished it, you can take on a number of challenges to unlock special items and moves. Imagine Naruto with Kakashi's Sensen Goroshi (1000 Years of Pain) or with Gai's Dynamic Entry kick! While the RPG mode is pretty good, one drawback is that it's relatively easy and short, until you finish it once and then focus on the different ranked missions, which are graded D (easiest) to S (hardest). These can be quite challenging, but none are too frustrating to complete. In all, you should be able to unlock everything in the game after 2 or 3 weeks of playing, which is pretty good longevity for a fighting game.
Import gamers will be happy to know that it's relatively easy to get through the game, even without a basic understanding of Japanese (hey, if I can do it, anyone can!). Although it's best played when you have a group of friends to game with, the RPG mode is quite fun and challenging once you get started, and fans of the series will love the ability to play as their favourite characters in the series. For now, this is the definitive Naruto game out there right now, surpassing Tomy's Naruto Geiktou Ninja Taisen 2. Get it while you can!
Gameplay Movie #1 (23 MB), DIVX
Gameplay Movie #2 (25 MB), DIVX