For a non-Naruto fan, you will walk away from Powerful Shippuden with this: Naruto hates forest animals. Snakes, birds, and wolves; this guy would tear through the world of Bambi with his ninja skills and never look back. It is fair to say Naruto wipes out two distinct species on his quest to do, well, something.
For the world of Naruto lore, Shippuden is not a blossoming entry point. Through multiple generations, the franchise has been slapped on all types of console media, which leads us here to the first go on 3DS. Often leaping through the fourth wall with videogame in-jokes or shock at their chibi appearances, characters statically communicate in pre-stage cinematics here. It rarely amounts to much.
In the end, it comes down to a flat design that usually restricts Naruto (and intersecting Rock Lee) to a single screen. Actually, the design isn’t so much flat as it is non-existent. Foes drop from smoke at the top of the screen or enter from unseen edges, and out they go from swift, generously powerful combinations. Others that dare venture forth are limited play things who fail to spice up the thrills.
Imagine that a few thousand times and you have Powerful Shippuden, crisscrossing 100 or levels split between Naruto and Rock, with a handful of arbitrary intersections involving keys. Certain stages cannot be accessed without finding keys from both characters, which means repetitiously replaying similar challenges to have them even out on their individual quests. This comes on top of necessary replays to level up and earn additional XP. Shippuden wants players sucked in and unable to leave.
Taking the combat out of its restrictive levels, there is enough here to burst through a typical licensed beat-em-up. Fisticuffs are swiftly delivered, while a stylish dash move allows for combo chaining. Cue up some specials, air combos, blocks, dodges, and secondary characters who drop into the fray when charged. All of that pieces together competent – if stupidly simple – offensive/defensive flourishes.
The issue is that whatever surrounds that core melee is intrinsically mediocre. Shippuden tries to hide that by being portable friendly, with levels taking mere minutes to clear at their highest point. They are too short to be offensive, unless paired with the rest of the title on a long trip or free time. Missions like to stack the deck, adding needless timers that exist to offer a base level difficulty, as most of the combat does not. With rarely any connection to the goofy narrative, that timer becomes a design infraction that only serves to expose the shaky underbelly of the game.
Fans will connect with the title, that is almost a given. Taking Naruto and Rock through their paces while bulking up special powers or completing thick secondary challenges is likely enough for many. This game, it should be noted, also breaks the realm of Naruto videogames from their lifetime of one-on-one fighting. The license is strong with this one, sharp sprite work and passable 3D effects creating a familiar anime world. Shippuden simply does not have the needed meat to survive, relying on backtracking for gained levels, then doubling up to disguise the roundabout way the game delivers the same campaign twice. Oh, and lots of dead forest animals.
Naruto: Powerful Shippuden is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes