There is something to be said about the evolution of Naruto video games overtime. They sure have come a very long way, developing into the unrivalled spectacle they now are today, with every iteration playing host to crisper graphics and the ability to experience some of the more outrageous events of Naruto’s fictional history. There is something that modern Naruto video games lack though; arguably, they have lost what was once most important to the series these games were based on…heart.
While flashy graphics and cinematic battles work wonders to immerse players in the world of Naruto and it’s follow-up series Naruto Shippuuden, it seems as though these games have had to sacrifice their charming nature to do so. That’s not to say the newer Naruto titles aren’t worth the money you pay or the time put into developing them, this is simply what time and exponential curve in popularity does to a series, and it is during periods such as this that I like to reminisce upon the past, thinking back on the days wherein which a Naruto video game truly was hard to come by.
In the year 2003, two Naruto games were released only a month apart from one-another. Naruto: Clash Of Ninja was released for the Nintendo Gamecube in the April of 2003, and Naruto: Ninja Council was released for the Game Boy Advance in the May of 2003; both being regarded as the first Naruto video games to ever be released, with one obvious title having a month-long head start over the other.
After a staggered localisation, both these titles were released across North America in the March of 2006 to a varied reception. Though the series was rising in popularity at the time, it was a slow build. Marketing a game outside of Japan wasn’t the easiest of pursuits, but regardless…it was done, and fans of the series, though stout in number, simply could not get enough.
Naruto: Clash Of Ninja was the one of two titles developed solely as a one-on-one fighting game. Despite the dropping of it’s name over time, it’s overall construct was used as a basis for future Naruto fighting titles leading all the way up until the most recent Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. Because of it’s fighting game layout, Clash Of Ninja was given somewhat of a warmer welcome. As with any video game, some genres are able to win over audiences above others. This was one such case.
The other of the two, Naruto: Ninja Council, is a stylish side-scroller that has players choose between one of three characters: Naruto, Sasuke, and eventually Kakashi. Because of it’s lack of character diversity and it’s alternative genre, it was the less popular of the two, but in my eyes…the more enjoyable.
Developed by little known, in modern times, Japanese developer Aspect Co., Naruto: Ninja Council played in much the way you would imagine. In any given stage, your goal was to defeat the boss, but not before surviving the attacks of foot soldiers, traps, wild animals, and pit falls, all the while collecting Hidden Leaf Symbols and finding allies darkened by shadows.
This game, unlike many of those released in modern times, featured a decent amount of unlockable content: Beating the Story Mode once will allow you to play through an alternative Story Mode route that takes place at night and features different Boss Battles, and completing both the Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha storylines in full will allow players to use Kakashi Hatake in the story mode. Completionists will also enjoy collecting the Hidden Leaf Symbols and Hidden Jutsu Scrolls which, in turn, do affect how one plays the game.
The charm of Naruto: Ninja Council is not just skin-deep, so the saying goes, but far deeper than that. It is a game that rewards players for taking it on slowly and thoroughly but also allows for experienced players to speed through and still enjoy their experience. Ninja Council has constant nods to it’s source material, with some boss battle able to be won with a simple technique so long as it coincides with the series’ story.
Messing up a Jutsu as Naruto will have the titular character pass gas instead of completing his attack, if one was to execute this while fighting Kiba Inuzuka, much like in the series, your opponent will be overcome by the smell of the flatulence thanks to his developed canine senses and be rendered immediately defeated. As Kakashi, when fighting Zabuza, using your Dog Summoning Jutsu will initiate a small cutscene wherein which, once again like the source material, Zabuza is held down and defeated with a Lightning Blade.
While Naruto: Clash Of Ninja is the most natural comparison to the series’ modern-day iterations, I feel as though it is Naruto: Ninja Council that shows the great distance thirteen years of development experience can produce. Naruto video games, much like the series, are not the same as they were over a decade ago, and while more people enjoy it now than once upon a time, there is much to appreciate about humble beginnings.
I, for one, still consider Naruto: Ninja Council to be my favorite Naruto video game. It captures the essence of early Naruto in a way unlike anything that came after it, but that could just be the guidance of nostalgia at my back. Regardless, it is a title that makes me smile even to this day. As recent as two weeks ago I bought myself a Game Boy Micro so that I can, once again, relive some of the video games that made my childhood great, and Naruto: Ninja Council, well…that was the first on my list. What else is there to say? Sometimes less is much, much more.