I'd like to believe it. I really would.
Naruto is a license that’s been lucky enough to be blessed with good games. The Clash of Ninja series is a very competent fighting franchise, and the critically acclaimed manga-amalgamation title Jump Superstars included Naruto’s main cast. D3 Publisher of America has also been bringing over the portable beat ‘em ups, known as Ninja Council here in the States. Ninja Council 3 is my first taste of the chain, and while there are a few promising facets, it all falls apart as a result of lazy design.
Ninja Council is based on completing a variety of missions (which can be accessed via large chunks in whatever order the player wishes) on a 2D, side-scrolling plane. This in itself would be fine, but the missions themselves lack any hint of effort on the part of the developer. Why do I have to kill 20 snakes in 60 seconds? I understand it might be part of the character’s training, but that doesn’t make it fun. I’d be able to let it go if it only happened occasionally, but when it takes up such a large portion of the experience, it’s a real problem.
This is a shame, because there’s a lot to like, otherwise. Other missions, like tracking down and fighting other characters from the story, are a lot of fun. Being able to teleport, pull off a sneak attack, and then disappear again before the other fighter can counter is really gratifying, and it makes for a lot of fun.
You’ll not only be able to play as the title character, but as the supporting cast as well, from Kakashi (Naruto’s team leader) to Sasuke (his rival) to Sakura (his love interest). They’ve all got their own special jutsus (magic attacks), which are executed by entering a touch-screen mini game where you’ve got to tap the correct seals in the right order in a limited amount of time. While I didn’t like having to switch from using the face buttons (which are used for melee attacks) to the touch screen so quickly, I still enjoyed the frenzy involved in trying to get the jutsu ready in time.
From a presentation point of view, there isn’t much of a change from the older GBA games. Still, the sprites are sharp, and the attack animations are smooth enough to pass by. Taking into account that this game was originally developed close to the DS’s launch, it’s not too shabby at all.
I really wish the missions were more meaningful, because the roots of a great 2D brawler are here – it just needs more time to mature. I can only hope that the next iteration of the series lives up the promise of Ninja Council 3, because if it can, it will definitely be a game I want to play.