The game is a nice mix of beat ‘em up ninja-punching action coupled with some RPG elements to keep things interesting, but the core element of the gameplay is teamwork. That makes it sound lame, but when you’re beating up a pack of wild dogs, it’s more fun.
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive (PSP)
Developer: Premium Agency Inc
Publisher: Namco Bandai
To be released: February 22
I’ll be honest. I never got into Naruto, so I’m a bit out of touch. I stopped watching Toonami after the Buu Saga ended, so bear with me. From what I’ve gathered, Naruto is about ninja school, and learning to be a better ninja, and fighting ninjas, and so forth. I’m totally cool with this concept, but I probably couldn’t pick any of the characters out of a lineup.
The story of Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive -- or NS: KD from now on, because typing that out is getting old -- is all original. It’s not based on anything in the manga or anime, so there’s something new to look forward to. Another bonus is that it includes both Japanese and English voice options, which I think is fantastic. Dubbed voices are nails on a chalkboard if you’re used to the Japanese audio.
As I mentioned, the gameplay is a lot of punching and kicking. Special moves and so forth, what you’d expect from an anime game about ninjas. The emphasis co-op is what makes it interesting, as you’re always fighting alongside three other ninjas.
When I played with one of Namco Bandai’s PR guys, we each picked our characters, and then picked the computer’s characters. Ideally, you’d play this game co-op with three friends over local Wi-Fi, but if not, the AI’s got your back.
In the mission we played, there were giant wild dogs terrorizing a village, and being respectable ninjas, we took it upon ourselves to beat the crap out of those dogs. There are six grades of difficulty: C, B, A, S, S+, and S++. In spite of the fact that we were playing a B-grade mission, one of the easier grades, I still died twice, and my teammates had to resurrect me.
The whole teamwork dynamic pays off when players go into Kizuna Drive. This is when everyone combines their attacks on a common enemy to do increased damage. In the game, this requires stunning an enemy, then hitting triangle and circle at the same time. Your teammates will gather around, the enemy is airborne, and it’s all a matter of timing your attacks for when the he is passed to you. It’s like volleyball, except with ninjas. If the enemy is flying towards you, and you time your attack wrong, you’ll get hurt. Just like in regular volleyball.
I think Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive shows a lot of promise, and I wish I’d had more time to play with it. It’s obvious the missions are short enough to keep the gameplay fun-sized, which is how handheld games should be, but it looks like some real work went towards making it an overall immersive experience.