Of all the licensed games on the market anime inspired ones usually fare much better than the rest. This is further enforced when you consider that one of the most popular franchises, Naruto spans two developers and has seen more than five titles in less than two years. Everyone’s favorite orange jumpsuit wearing ninja is back for what could be his last PS2 outing with Namco Bandai’s Ultimate Ninja 3. Not a whole lot has changed since its last inception, but what is here will certainly appease it’s fanbase without breaking a sweat.
One of the biggest reasons that Naruto games are so popular is because of how faithful they are to the series. Ultimate Ninja 3 is certainly no exception as you will undoubtedly feel like you are playing an episode of the show. All of your favorite characters are here including Sasuke, Kakashi and of course Naruto himself. The plot thinly revolves around a festival thrown by Tsunade for visitor from another village. Of course this wouldn’t be a Naruto game without some fisticuffs; the focal point of the entire festival is a giant battle royal that pits contestants against each other in a battle for crystals. The two opponents at the end of the sparring with the most crystals get to duke it out for the right to create a new regulation in Hidden Leaf Village.
Gameplay is broken down into two main types exploration and fighting. Much like the 360’s Rise of a Ninja released last fall Ultimate Ninja 3 combines the two mechanics to draw players deeper into the Naruto lore. You will spend a large amount of your time running around Hidden Leaf Village collecting items, completing mini-quests and of course challenging other characters to fight. Collecting money and scrolls is another large part of the equation. Money can be used to purchase several necessities around the city and scrolls are used to purchase new moves, which gives the game a hint of RPG flavor much like the aforementioned Rise of a Ninja.
Navigating the city is easy thanks to the radar system that keeps track of all the objectives and fighters scattered around the town. You can also use the map to jump from location to location instantly, which can be very helpful when your next challenge is on the complete opposite side of the map, and you can access your inventory. Inventory is important because everything you need to coerce fighters into accepting your challenge will be held here as well as gifts for your female (or male if you prefer) friends so you can get them to go out on a date with you. You can also keep track of all of your stats via the menu system such as your attribute level, equipped Jutsu moves and of course which ultimate move you are currently carrying.
Outside of exploring and brawling Ultimate Ninja 3 is also host to a slew of mini-games that you can access either during the Ultimate Contest or in the Break Room. For the most part these games really feel flat and uninspired, which is disappointing to say the least. While they all feel very reminiscent of the show their button mashing mechanics feel tacked on. Whether you are participating in target practice or simply racing up the side of trees you never really derive any enjoyment out of these mediocre distractions.
If you played the previous Ultimate Ninja game the fighting here will feel very familiar. You tap the circle button to attack, X to jump, square is for throwing objects and triangle is for special moves. Granted this isn’t the most complex system out there, but it gets the job done. What Ultimate Ninja 3 lacks in complexity it makes up for in style. Each of your special moves is presented in a cinematic button-press event that really spices up the battles. New to this version is also the ability to summon massive representations of yourself all of which is presented in HD glory and really shows off the aging hardware.
Speaking of hardware limitations Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 sports some of the most glorious backgrounds I have yet seen in a PS2 fighter. We are talking HD, high quality locales here complete with incredible animation. The fighters themselves are not nearly as detailed, but their immense speed more than makes up for it. The drawback is a lengthy load time before each bout, but you get used to it and it’s almost worth it simply for the gorgeous visuals this game manages to produce. Sound is equally impressive complete with English and Japanese voice tracks. The music is lifted directly from the show and the dialogue further enforces the illusion that you are playing an actual episode of the series.
With a massive 55 mission storyline, tons of combatants and plenty of unlockables UN3 is another great addition to the franchise. Fans of the show will likely find plenty to love here. Hopefully the next chapter will finally make a jump to the current-gen consoles and include online play, and with the success of DLC for the Xbox 360 version can you imagine the wealth of characters and stages that could be added down the road. UN3 delivers exactly what you would expect from the series, but in the end if it isn’t broken why try to change the successful formula.