In the years we’ve known Naruto, we’ve seen quite the surplus of Naruto games. He’s tackled fighting games and RPGs alike, and it’s easy to say that the world is in Naruto fatigue. Powerful Shippuden isn’t based off the main Naruto series proper; it’s an adaptation of the spin-off series Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals, a distinctly more chibi and cartoonish retelling of Naruto. Many Naruto games bring their “A” game when it comes to fan-service, but not much when it comes to substance. This is not the case with Naruto: Powerful Shippuden, which opts to go for both style and substance
Naruto: Powerful Shippuden doesn’t just star the titular character. Being based off Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals, Rock Lee shares the spotlight, and gets his own part of the game. While Naruto sticks to the source material, Rock Lee goes off the rails with silly little missions and objectives. On both sides, the story is more comedic and light-hearted in tone compared to most Naruto games. Essentially, the mission setup is similar to Super Mario Bros. 3 when it comes to progression: beat a mission to unlock a set path that has multiple branches. In order to stop you from progressing too much on one campaign, you’ll have stopgaps that require a certain amount of “keys” you’ll unlock by playing through both campaigns. Naruto is adept at all forms of combat, both physical and projectile. Rock Lee, however, is not, as the canon explains.
The game also features several RPG elements, like leveling up particular traits about you. As you keep winning battles, you’ll keep gaining experience. You then manually put that experience into whatever area of combat you want. The game also has bonus objectives you can do for experience multipliers, like beating the mission in under three minutes or beating the mission without taking a hit, which leads to way more to spend on customizations. Not all elements of combat are equal, however. It’s a lot easier to level up your kunai powers than it is to level up your chakra capabilities. Not only that, but you can customize some of these weapons to do all sorts of bonus damage. For example, you can upgrade your standard kunai into poison kunai.
As is the case with beat ‘em ups, the gameplay tends to get somewhat boring and repetitive, which is doubly true for Rock Lee, who cannot use energy-based attacks. What alleviates this in Powerful Shippuden is the amount of layers added to the combat. You have your typical blocks and parries, but when you wait long enough, you can ask for support characters to help you out. Characters from Neji Hyuga to Gaara to Sakura Haruno will give you a hand with a flurry of attacks. Also, you can change to Naruto and Rock Lee’s respective powered-up modes (Sage and Five Gates, respectively) with a tap of the screen, making it a lot easier to rack up combos and experience.
Compared to the contrived RPG elements and flat-out unsatisfying combat of previous Naruto games, Powerful Shippuden is a breath of fresh air. The combat is pulled straight from the 2D arcade beat ‘em ups of yesteryear, with different layers of combat. You’ve got the normal button-mashing elements, combos that go into classic Naruto moves like Rasengan and Primary Lotus, and even a nice sprint button. Thing is, these special moves drain chakra, your main energy source. Completely drain yourself of it, and you risk tiring yourself out and ruining the decent combos you’ll dish out.
The cute, cartoonish aesthetic works well, with the pop-out effects of the Nintendo 3DS working better than if it were a polygonal game. Whether it’s in cut scenes or in the actual game, the look never grows stale. Audio-wise, there’s not much to say. Most of the dialogue comes through in texts. Occasionally, when a character is doing a special move or combo, he’ll belt it out, but not in English. Every spoken word in this game comes across in Japanese, with the Japanese voice actors from the show delivering lines. It’s a small, but interesting decision to not stick to English voice actors.
I can’t say I was expecting greatness from Naruto: Powerful Shippuden, especially after the misprinted Naruto box art that went around a couple weeks ago. What I found instead was a surprisingly fun, adorable 2D beat ‘em up that tries its hardest to remain a breath of fresh air, but ultimately falls into staleness by the very nature of the genre. It looks great, has some humorous bits of dialogue, and has more amounts of charm than most anime-based game I’ve played. Contemplate your Naruto fandom. If you like the franchise, or even 2D beat ‘em ups in general, but want something a little lighter in tone, give Powerful Shippuden a shot.