Naruto: Ninja Council
Ninja Council offers quick entertainment, but no long-term advising.
Ah, the good old days of River City Ransom and Double Dragon. At one point in gaming's history, I really couldn't get enough of these games, madly tapping away on my NES pad as I beat up nameless thug after nameless thug, all for the sake of rescuing a poor girl in distress or "taking back the city" when the police could've easily gotten the job done if they were on hand. But lately, this style of game has gone downhill, with such morbid examples as Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance and Final Fight Streetwise cluttering game shelves. Perhaps it's time to let it go, or at least rethink the formula.
Naruto: Ninja Council doesn't really follow either path, coming out from the camp at Tomy and delivering with it the kind of quick arcade-style experience that those two previous 80's brands did. Based on the ever-popular anime show of the same name, Ninja Council puts you in the shoes of the wily Naruto or his arch-nemesis Sasuke as they battle out a number of (mostly) nameless enemies over a series of seven levels, each with five-minute intervals. Along the way, they'll get assistance from other characters, who will either provide power-ups or advice in surviving the level and getting to a boss battle with one of the enemies from the show.
You've seen this game before, and probably done a lot better. It's not like Ninja Council is lacking in gameplay, because it isn't. You've got your jumping skills, projectile attacks, and up-close punches and kicks to keep enemies laid out all over the place. But there's nothing that really identifies with the Naruto formula, aside from the characters and the basic story that the game's stages are hung upon. Worse yet, the foray's only for one player, meaning that any hopes of going along with a friend to beat the hell out of everybody is an option that is sorely missing. Sure, it's a GBA game, but I know a few games of this sort that work better on a two-player format. Do you think anyone would've played Double Dragon as much if it was just for one person?
The presentation also sorely needs a little touching up. While some special attacks show a bit of anime-style flair on the screen, it's just general design at work here, something that's even below the standards of a typical SNES platformer. The animation is decent, as is the level design and some of the technique effects, but it's really bottom-drawer, with not nearly enough detail to reflect upon the beautiful style of the show. The sound barely registers as well, with only a few sound samples scattered amidst a boring soundtrack that fails to bring any sort of richness to the proceedings. You're best just leaving your unit turned down and blaring the show in the background, honestly.
Probably the worst thing going against Ninja Council is any true reason to go back. The game does have a few memorable boss battles that will keep you busy, to be sure, but once the levels are beaten and you complete the game, all you have is access to a music player and an unlocked new character that you can play the game through as. That's about it. This could've been a golden opportunity for Tomy to include artwork, movie clips (which, by the way, CAN fit on a GBA cartridge), and maybe even a versus mode. But they didn't, and you have a game that'll last a couple of hours, maybe longer. It depends on your love of the show.
When Naruto: Clash of Ninja came out for the GameCube a little while ago, I praised it. Sure, it may be the earlier entry in a series that has since grown significantly, but the fact we were seeing it at all was a nice sight, offering GameCube owners some fresh brawling to do while we await future chapters. Ninja Council doesn't exactly innovate as well as its GameCube release, only because it lacks long-term appeal and two-player interaction that would've given it proper attention, maybe even making it "the next River City Ransom". As is, it's a decent time waster for a few hours, or maybe something to play while you're waiting for the next episode of the show to air. Believe it.
What's Hot: Lots of moves available
What's Not: Too short and too easy