The Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series is one of the better fighters based on the Naruto universe. Now the latest installment: Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 is here and it expands on the series and refines the action in almost every way while retaining the simple mechanics or the previous games.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 sports an improved jutsu system; instead of using a quick time event-based combo, you can select from three ways to pull off the jutsu moves such as spinning an analog stick, input formula or pushing a button repeatedly. These are much easier to get a handle on for new players and a welcome addition to the series.
For fans of the previous games that came back for more and just happen to have a save game from Ultimate Ninja 1 or 2, upon detecting the save files Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 gifts some extra ninja info cards and ryo. You can spend the ryo to unlock bonus material such as character info cards at Tanzaku Market and view it in Naruto’s House.
In Hero’s History mode you play through various battles from the series. It tells the story of Naruto’s origins and lets players revisit some of the big battles from the anime, telling the story in FMV interludes. Although nothing new to fighting games in general it’s a first for this series – the rest of the series had manga style cut-scene - and sticks to the cell shaded style to blend in with the gameplay visuals.
When it comes to fighting, fans of the previous installments will know what to expect: 2D fighting over multi-tiered environments, a few jutsu moves and power-up items. There are 42 characters to choose from this time. Although only a handful of main characters are available from the start, the rest have to be unlocked, and each have their unique jutsu moves to equip and swap out.
Should you want to take a break from the fighting, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 has three party games to play with a friend or against the CPU. First, there’s a tree climbing game where players run up a tree while avoiding branches and collecting power-ups to move faster. The second is Nice Guy’s Exercises, a collection of quick time event games. And there's also Tenten’s Target Practice Dojo, in which you don’t actually practice aiming, but rather throw kunei by pushing the button corresponding to the target – yes, another quick time event based mini-game.
New features this title brings to the series include Ultimate Contest - a sandbox mode where you can run and jump around Leaf Village and talk to different characters, usually getting mundane responses like “Do you exercise everyday?”, “I’m having a bad hair day” and “These goggles... I kinda like them.” Alternatively, you can run around town breaking crates, water tanks and other assorted objects for extra ryo. Although the camera can be problematic, there’s no need for concern as you will never die in this mode; it’s just here to get you familiar with the characters and/or invade their homes. Occasionally mini-quests become available with rewards such as new jutsu techniques. You can also switch to ‘shuriken mode’ and throw shurikens in a first-person view. Unfortunately, they appear to be made of cardboard and can’t even break a pot. Then they disappear after a couple of seconds. On the up side you have unlimited shurikens, so you’re free to throw as many of the useless things as you want.
Despite the sad excuse for a sandbox mode, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja is the best Naruto game on PlayStation 2; this installment refines the series further with flashier visuals and mini-games. Fans should definitely check this out; casual players may want to rent first or try a demo. Unfortunately 60gig PS3 owners may want to hold off buying this until at least the next firmware update as it crashes in Hero’s Story mode.