BitSnark

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Naruto: The Broken Bond Review (360)

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I love it when developers get things right. No really I do, especially when they get things right about properties that I care about; the immensely popular ninja anime Naruto, being one of them. Debuting in November 2007 on the XBOX 360, Naruto: Rise Of A Ninja introduced players to a sandbox environment where platforming, side missions, lush cel-shaded graphics, fighting and RPG-lite elements all tied closely with the story of the first eighty episodes to form an enjoyable experience worthy of the epic story arcs it was based upon.

A mere eleven months later and we have a sequel that details what’s left of the remaining story. Unfortunately, what is left does not add up to much as there really are only three major events left for the narrative to tell, and don’t forget folks there’s gotta be a game in there somewhere too. Therefore, Naruto: The Broken Bond is a title which simply stands on the shoulders of its predecessor; seemingly refusing to rise above its station and quite content to give us more of what we experienced in 2007, effectively padding out the game with additional whimsical tasks and trying to give the illusion that there is more to the game than there actually appears. In the context of the Naruto franchise, where much of the action takes place in the same locales this is understandable to an extent, as in this early point in the series much of the action does take place in the same surroundings, the problem lies however in the absence of anything new to do in those same places.

Returning to the integrated exploration and fighting mechanics that made 2007’s Rise of a Ninja a breath of fresh air at a time where Naruto games where primarily one-on-one fighting affairs, Naruto: The Broken Bond does so with very little revision to the formula. Our stumpy loudmouth orange tracksuit wearing shinobi finds himself running down the same streets and jumping across the same buildings in the hub area from last time; the ninja village Konoha.

As well as the familiar ninja village, Naruto also revisits many familiar looking forest locales that look mighty similar to those seen in the previous game, and indeed, the spike traps, spike pits and hidden gold coins do little to convince that much has changed at all. With that in mind, developer FoxTeam has seen fit to spice the forest exploration up a little bit from last time. In Naruto: The Broken Bond, there are obstacles which can only be bypassed through the use of techniques specific to each ninja. For example, there are ‘clone’ bridges that Naruto can create to cross chasms, or a searching shadow that Shikamaru can create to flick switches that are behind closed doors.

Combat has been tweaked in a few ways too. QTE inspired jutsu are now much easier to pull off, with the timings for doing so relaxed somewhat and now players can tag out to another character or grab another character for a double team attack. The aforementioned double team attack ultimately disappoints however, as regardless of which characters are in use the animation is always the same; punch, kick, jump in the air, kick to the ground.

Herein lies a missed opportunity and one that will certainly draw the chagrin of fans of the show. Aside from providing no discernable difference in damage or appearance regardless of who you use, it would have been nice if the attack took advantage of each character’s unique arsenal of abilities; for example, Shikamaru could use his shadow bind technique to hold the opponent while Naruto summons some of his shadow clones to pummel the rooted foe.

The core platforming element of The Broken Bond however remains largely unchanged with the same imprecise platforming making a somewhat unwelcome return. Yes, your supposedly infinitely agile ninja will still have the greatest of difficulty landing on slanted platforms or gripping surfaces that aren’t at a ninety degree angle. One aspect of the platforming that has seen improvement though is the fact that there is no need to make complicated combinations of d-pad directions and button presses to achieve the water running and wall running that is achieved so effortlessly in the series. Instead, it’s done through tapping the ‘X’ button, which makes the wall and water running antics contained within the game a much more seamless and enjoyable experience.

In regards to the whimsical activities mentioned earlier, it seems as though they form the bulk of the Broken Bond’s playtime. Many of the old side ‘activities’ from Rise Of A Ninja are brought back for this sequel, with racing and coin collecting tasks making their unspectacular return. The new activities that developer FoxTeam has promised are merely just rehashed versions of the typical collect-a-thon formula or repetitive fishing events, encouraging completion to increase much needed stats, but otherwise failing to steal attention from the main storyline and associated missions.

Compounding the issue somewhat, the ‘Tanzaku Town’ mini-games also serve to annoy and frustrate in a greater ratio than they do to genuinely entertain, with each one providing a banal reactionary test for the player. Given their unfairly skewed level of difficulty in the later stages, there is precious little reason to return to them if there wasn’t a need to do so for a few instances in the main storyline. Thusly, this leaves the mini-games as a poor way to artificially increase the game’s overall playtime, and as an addition, it’s one The Broken Bond could have surely done without.

Side missions which involve fighting or fetching something across long distances also frustrate upon completion, as for some reason the developers have removed the instant teleport back to the Konoha hub; forcing players to manually retrace the long journey back to the village. Annoyingly this was a feature that was present in the original game, but the fact that it has been inexplicably cut this time round just comes across as simply beguiling.

Aside from the main story, the obligatory fight modes and online modes return. Just like last time they remain solid affairs, allowing you to take any one of twenty-five unlocked shinobi online against other players and rank up and gain achievements for bragging rights. In addition to this, one other nice feature for purists is the addition of the Japanese language track; no doubt succeeding in soothing the ears of those who find the English dub hard to listen to.

Ultimately, at no point does Naruto: The Broken Bond, come off as a sequel, instead simply giving us more of the same without expanding the concept in any meaningful ways; a probable and unfortunate symptom of the title’s swift eleven month development cycle. Even with all of its faults, both major and minor, Broken Bond certainly should not be classed as a bad Naruto title. It’s still a good example of platforming, RPG and fighting mechanics working in synergy to create a robust take on our beloved Naruto fiction, and still has the cel-shaded visuals to rival those of the anime.

Its failings stem from the fact that the developers were lumbered with a small story and decided to unnecessarily pad it out with uninspired mini games and repetitive side missions and in the process, seemingly stifling any kind of additional innovations that the title may have had. Who knows, maybe such hypothetical innovations may emerge in the sure-to-appear Naruto: Shippuuden title, where the title hero and his friends have grown up and the series moves to a variety of different locations and more mature storylines. Hopefully then, the developers won’t find themselves constrained by the narrative and with any luck, such a short development time. At the moment however, Naruto: The Broken Bond stands only as an essential purchase for fans who don’t mind a weaker second act and crave more of the same.

Overall Rating: 6.5

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Written by bitsnark

March 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm

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