Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is the newest Naruto game on the PSP and I can’t help but look at it as a wasted opportunity. That may because I was spoiled by the amazing looking Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm on the PS3, or by many other games on the PSP with terrific animation, but with a property as deep and loved as Naruto, this game could have been much more.
At its heart, Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is a brawler based on an original story in the Naruto universe. The story is presented in semi-animated cutscenes that are sporadically animated. At times the cutscenes look OK and other times they look like cardboard cutouts moving around. After seeing many other games with stellar animation (including other Naruto games) this was a very disappointing presence for a story driven brawler.
The battle mechanic itself is fairly simple; you can jump, dodge, and have one simple attack and a special attack that changes based on where it is used in a combo. You can also cycle out your special attack button with an item or alternate ability that you can customize in the options menu. You also always have three other companions with you and the options unlock as you progress in the game. The AI controls these companions (badly) but you can cycle through them and call in a support attack when needed.
The combat system seems like it could be deep, but it unfortunately isn’t. The limited attack options have you spamming enemies over and over again, plus your AI companions mill around most of the time and any opportunities are always created by you. If you hit someone with a full combo, you can stun them and then trigger a mini-game to hit with a group attack. Unfortunately, the time involved to pull this off is not worth the trade off (and the mini-game gets repetitive quickly).
The environments looked pretty good at first, but then I realized that they repeat far too often and there is absolutely no complexity or change to them. You enter a level because you are attacked, or need to defend something, or need to attack someone, and it is literally just a small corridor. No branching paths, no high ground, no wall running, just a small arena, waves of enemies, and then you are done. This repetitive nature becomes tedious very quickly and is only marginally saved by the large roster of characters. You can choose your team every level if you choose, and seeing the different attack styles is interesting, at least for a short while.
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive features a pretty robust multiplayer mode that I have not tried nor will be able to I imagine. Like many other PSP games, the online is Ad Hoc only which means that I would have to gather together three other people who also own the game to try and play the co-op. The odds of that happening are below zero so I was not able to try it for this review. It is cool that there is four player co-op, but the battle system is so limited that I cannot see this being something that would be anything more than a novelty.
Graphically, the game is pretty faithful to the series and I actual found I liked the in-engine graphics and animation much better than the (semi) animated cutscenes. The audio presentation is nice and blessedly you have the option of an English track or Japanese with English subtitles.
Ultimately Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is a fairly bare bones game in comparison to the ones presented on the PS3 and Xbox 360 and it is a true shame. The PSP has the capabilities to offer a fully fleshed out experience and everything in this game seems to be half steps. Better animation in the cutscenes, more complexity to the battle system, better mission structure, and interesting environments could have made this quite a good game. As it stands it was repetitive, simple, and in the end not terribly enjoyable.
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief.