Naruto has had many games released over the past few years, each with confusing titles and a required knowledge of the show; so do we need to watch 100+ hours to get what is going on in Naruto Shippuden Kizuna Drive or is this a more relaxed approach?
To make the game slightly more accessible the story this time around is original, making it easier for newcomers to get what is going on, but staying close to the Naruto mythos. This time a Naruto lookalike is seen to destroy a nearby village, who then swear vengeance on Naruto and the Hidden Leaf Village where he resides by unleashing an ultimate power. Naruto, being unaware of this is also investigating similar strange events centred around a recent spate of Ninja kidnappings.
Where the more recent Naruto games will have you running around Hidden Leaf Village chatting to characters and collecting items this game cuts right to the chase with full-on ninja action. Naruto is essentially a 3D beat em up but with a lot more depth. Each mission involves you fighting a huge variety of ninja and beasts in small arenas, when one is cleared, you run to the next checkpoint to take on the next wave. The missions set you up with three other characters, who after a short briefing will join you in battle. Of course Naruto is the main character but you will also have chances to play as and alongside other characters like Sakura, Kahashi and Shihamara, who all have specific roles like recovery, attack and support.
The action itself is an interesting blend of simple combos and teamwork, with only one attack button to create combos you can top them off with a Chakra draining Jutsu move, which can be recharged holding down the square button. The game seems more about attacks and tactics as there is not a lot on the defensive side other than jump or the Substitution Jutsu, which again drains Chakra, but will half the amount of damage received and keeping you on your feet, allowing for a quick counter.
To get your team involved you just need to highlight one of your supporting characters with the d-pad and by tapping square, which can get a little confusing in the height of battle, but doing so calls them over to assist you, be it attacking or just distracting an enemy whilst you gather yourself; when needed you can even perform a team attack when enemies are stunned in the form of a quick button mashing mini game. The whole team have Jutsu powers to use like Nine-Tails Power and team health regeneration plus Ninja Tools like shuriken and also support items like quick heal which the AI seems to dish out at the right times. Once you have cleared the mission of enemies and the final boss you will earn scrolls and items which you can then equip to any character to boost stats and power up on the battlefield.
The main single player Scenario Missions open up even more modes under the free mission section, allowing you to play objective based missions to earn even more scrolls and more hardcore training drills. In these modes you are able to select any of the characters unlocked in story mode and create your own team. All of the freeplay games are also available to play in multiplayer, with local ad-hoc being the usual method. If you can find the time and another three players this mode changes the game from a single player experience to one of the better multiplayer games on the PSP but it is real a shame there is no online mode.
If there is one thing Naruto games are known for it’s being faithful to the series itself and Kizuna Drive is no different. The graphics really shine on the PSP screen with cutscenes and voices from the show reflecting the style and humour and the actual 3D engine doing a good job of emulating the shows action with realistic character models and smooth animation. The environments are varied but do feel a little empty, with only the occasional rock or cliff edge to throw your foe towards for a hit bonus.
On the face of things Naruto is a game with simplistic controls and button bashing action, however underneath is quite a deep beat em up with lots lot unlock and a huge roster of characters to collect and play. Fans will lap up this game and newcomers will not feel alienated by the more open storyline and may even end up enjoying the show itself.