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Naruto: Path of the Ninja

For: DS

Seemingly, the path to becoming a ninja is derivative and outdated

Product: Naruto: Path of the Ninja | Developer: TOSE | Publisher: D3Publisher of America | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Film/ TV tie- in, RPG | Players: 1 | Version: US
Naruto: Path of the Ninja DS, thumbnail 1
Isn't it absolutely annoying how long it takes for some games to come out even though they're available in other regions? Take Metroid Prime Pinball, for instance. Despite sliding onto shelves in Japan and US way back in winter 2005, Europe didn't get a chance to pick it up until this summer. That's a year and a half later! Translating that ball into French, German, and Italian must have been awfully difficult.

We mention this because Naruto: Path of the Ninja has been victim to such a delay, too. A remake of a Game Boy Advance title released over three years ago in Japan (before DS was even available), it's perhaps not entirely surprising Path of the Ninja is little more than an outdated role-playing game. From its pixelated graphics and clunky controls, to role-playing mechanics a generation behind the curve, it's a title that hardly captures the spirit of its yellow-haired hero.

The game chronicles the early academy days of ninja Naruto, eponymous star of the popular manga. You control him, along with his classmates Sasuke and Sakura, as they complete missions and take tests to advance their ninja rank. Like any role-playing game, engaging enemies in battles earns you experience that goes toward increasing your core attributes and unlocking new abilities. Sadly, character development is handled automatically by the game, essentially restricting your involvement in the RPG process to level grinding.

Battles sit at the centre of the Path of the Ninja experience, occurring randomly as you wander the field screen. Either the D-pad or stylus can be used for navigation, although the lack of diagonal movement makes use of the former easier. Once in battle, though, all of the action takes place on the touchscreen. As with exploration, you're free to use either the buttons or stylus to select from the battle menu and attack enemies. But contrary to the walking segment, the stylus is actually superior to the D-pad when in combat.

The turn-based battle system isn't anything you haven't seen in other RPGs a thousand times before, so it's hardly interesting but it gets the job done. Basic attacks are complemented by powerful jutsu that range from elemental attacks to status ailments to healing powers.

Jutsu consume chakra, which essentially acts like magic points. As such, executing a jutsu requires spending the associated number of chakra points. Most jutsu are easily triggered with a tap of the stylus, but a handful can be powered up by rubbing the touchscreen. While not the most clever application of touch controls, at least some attempt was made to tailor this poor port to DS.

This system would actually work well if it weren't for the fact that it's far too easy to replenish chakra points. In each level exists a Konoha mark that refills lost health and chakra. Locate this mark and you can easily explore an area without fear of dying, returning to heal up when needed. Great in theory, but most of the challenge is taken away because of this poor design decision. Then again, you can argue it does make the game more accessible to the younger crowd, which this lackluster title is presumably targeting.

It's only within the last year or so that Naruto has become fashionable outside of Japan, meaning games like Path of the Ninja weren't previously considered for release in the US and Europe. But the long wait for this purported remake has hardly been worthwhile. Pulling a substitution jutsu for what amounts to a repackaged Game Boy Advance title isn't acceptable, especially for a series now as popular as this.

Just looking at Path of the Ninja and you can tell that it stems from GBA. Tiny sprites, which are intended to be cute, appear blocky and pixelated. Unsurprisingly, the animations are atrocious – Naruto swings his arms like a monkey robot. At least the character portraits viewed during conversations and in the status menu are suitably appealing.

The presentation is much better in battle, offering greater detail in the characters and range of animation. Occasionally a pretty cel-shaded image pops up on the top screen during combat, but you're not likely to notice with your eyes glued to the action on the touchscreen.

There is the odd other enhancement Path of the Ninja makes on the original game, not least in the inclusion of (limited) voice acting. Characters shout out jutsu names in battle and make exclamations at certain points in conversation. Okay, it's a small addition to be certain, but one that helps fight against the overall outmoded presentation. Too bad a new layer of polish wasn't applied to the music as well, though – Naruto's muzak makes you feel as though everything is happening in an lift.

Which is perhaps the best metaphor for the level of excitement Path of the Ninja can offer. While it would have been a decent game three years ago, this is a title terribly unfit for release on DS. It's simply too far behind the times to warrant purchase, at least not at full price. Wait another three years and perhaps pick it up in a bargain bin then. Or not.
Naruto: Path of the Ninja
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 2 November 2007
Naruto: Path of the Ninja may star a sprightly yellow-haired youth, but its gameplay is old and tired. Even fans of the manga are going to have a hard time choking down this stale piece of gaming
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