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Rise of a Ninja January 30, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.

Naruto: Rise of a NinjaIt was a post on Kotaku that got me interested in Naruto: Rise of a Ninja.

Because it’s been years since I followed the anime/manga scene, I knew little else about Naruto other than that it was a popular Shonen Jump manga and anime series about an eponymous ninja in an orange jumpsuit. I’d also developed the impression, after having watched enough episodes of X-play during my three-odd year tour of duty in New York, that most games based on the franchise have been widely vilified.

Nonetheless, I held out hope for Rise of a Ninja. Partly, it was because the game features cel-shaded animation (and I’m a sucker for most things cel-shaded). Partly, it was also because the game was packaged as a cross between platformer, RPG and fighting game. But above and beyond these, there was the unmistakable fact that Rise of a Ninja was rooted in the first eighty or so episodes of the anime (with cutscenes!), and thereby promised to be a quick and easy way to get introduced to the series.

On that score I’ve been quite pleased with Naruto: Rise of a Ninja. I think of it like RPG-lite, a straightforward and, for the most part, no frills RPG that doesn’t require an inordinate investment of time to enjoy. Character development is mostly story-based, with enough questing elements — Deliver ramen! Play hide and seek! Race through town! — that, while absurd, work well enough for a quick fix of occasionally challenging gameplay. This gives the game enough variety, even if one intends to just switch off mentally and just get lost in a video game for a couple of hours. Especially so. The stunning cel-shaded graphics are a huge bonus as well.

Ironically, the plot-based elements are what I liked the least about the game. While it keeps very faithfully to the anime’s plot, translating these into the game resulted in storytelling where it was painfully clear that so much (too much?) was left on the cutting-room floor. Avid fans of Naruto would surely get a real kick out of reliving the anime through Rise of a Ninja; unfortunately, the uninitiated will have to make do with a decent game whose story makes only the bare minimum of sense — as far as orange-jumpsuit clad ninjas go, anyway.

Yet games don’t need to be taken all that seriously. Hence, as far as plain and simple fun are concerned, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja comes out well ahead and is a great game to own for the Xbox 360.


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