I probably shouldn't be reviewing this game. Until I played it, I thought of Naruto as a sort of compact, orange symbol used in bookshops to warn me that I'd reached the wrong section. It's one of those manga-becomes-animé-becomes-game gargan-chises that's just a little too imposing to those looking in from the outside to contemplate approaching.
Here's this game in my 3DS, though, and here am I ploughing through it. Naruto: Powerful Shippuden, I'm told, draws its name from a sequel series to the original Naruto manga - which covers the principal characters at an older age - but actually sits alongside a new animé series called Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals, both having broadly humorous content and chibi illustration style. What this amounts to from a layman's perspective is that a load of freakishly deformed children talk in a vaguely sexualised fashion and then throw kunai at one another.
Far be it from me to impinge on the tastes of those who love a franchise I know nothing about, but my first impressions were that this all felt a bit wrong. Not in terms of content - you guys do what you like - but in the fact that it was a (mostly) traditional 2D brawler, accompanied by a storyline that involved a lot of played-for-laughs intergender cosplay/distraction techniques. It just didn't seem to fit.
Chiggedy chakra yo' self
Here I am, though, still playing and still enjoying. The concept is simple, but the execution allows for a mix of compelling complications. The game is essentially two concurrent campaigns, each played with a different character (Naruto or Rock Lee) and split into numerous individual missions. The gameplay follows a set pattern: you have attacks, special attacks (which drain your chakra, an energy bar refilled by regular combat) and special techniques (devastating, often situation-specific moves that require large portions of chakra). You also have the ability to earn other characters, each with specific and multifarious moves, who can be turned into a support team that act as another layer of moves during fights.
Its satisfying combo system, coupled with individual win conditions for every mission, make it reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors. The odd mix of straight fights, specific enemy-type targeting, skill tests and, well, balloon popping can be made more exciting with the ability to add personal conditions (beat in a certain time, take no damage, etc.) before taking them on.
That then rewards you with experience, which powers the game's RPG elements, giving you the opportunity to increase stats, learn moves and defend against status effects. It's a very nicely balanced system and it helps make up for the repeated mission malaise that sets in after a little time with the campaigns.
There are other problems: hit detection isn't always top-notch and the 3D makes the game's clean lines look a fair bit worse, not to mention a story that's been designed to appeal so much to fans that it forgets to be a satisfying, coherent narrative.
That said, this is an extremely competent brawler with enough depth to survive the necessary grind it requires of the player. You'll want to replay and improve. So maybe I was the right person to review it after all: I may not understand Naruto, but Powerful Shippuden makes itself very clear.