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Ubisoft unleashes a sequel to last year's fighter-come-platform game blend with plenty more Jutsus to keep gamers happy...
- Immersive storytelling.
- Superb blend of gameplay.
- Stunning cel-shaded visuals.
- It's a bit on the short side.
- Multiplayer bouts can get repetitive.
Ubisoft Montreal's first Naruto game, Rise of a Ninja, was a veritable treasure trove of brilliant storytelling; a mesmerising platform game set in an embracing open world shouldered by some original fighting gameplay that never forgot its source material. The title made last year's TVG Hall of Game, coming in at number 14 on our chart of the year's best games due to it receiving a very high 8 when we reviewed it back in November 2007. We had very good reason for this.
Good games can keep you satisfied - they pull out enough tricks over the course of 12 gameplay hours to make sure that your interest doesn't waiver. Great games, on the other hand, produce moments so well put together that they stay with you as memories of pure gaming joy for months, possibly even years after playing them. This is what Rise of a Ninja had in droves, with particularly magical sections such as the Forest of Death remaining with us a long time after our memories of other mid-table Hall of Game titles - the likes of Crysis and Sega Rally - had waned.
Continuing The Legacy
No doubt aware that a large majority of the gamers who play Broken Bond will have also played Rise of a Ninja, Ubisoft Montreal has created an opening sequence for the game that's both accessible enough for noobs while also being fast paced and dramatic enough to please those already initiated. You take control of the Third Hokage (Sarutobi-sensei) as he attempts to defend the Hidden Leaf Village from a surprise attack by Orochimaru. In other words, ultimate bad guy meets ultimate good guy in the opening section. It's utterly convincing, drags you into the action with both hands, and introduces the basic fighting techniques almost subliminally.
We won't ruin the plot of this first section, but suffice to say that it kick-starts a story which never flags in pace for the rest of the game's duration. Playing and fighting as other characters is also commonplace as you'll take on the role of Naruto's supporting cast including Sasuke, Kiba, and Shikamaru (to name but a few) at key points in the game. In stark contrast to the first game, which was seen almost entirely through Naruto's eyes, you'll now use other characters' unique Jutsus to overcome puzzles and stave off enemies by tagging into fights when Naruto gets a bit knackered.
As a result of this, the Jutsus on offer are far more ranged. From Shikamaru's Shadow Jutsu to Kiba's sniper Jutsu mini-game, gamers will have to master a much wider range techniques in order to succeed, both in the game's many puzzles and as well as during combat. With Naruto mastering the basics of Sexy Jutsu and Clone Jutsu techniques in the first game, Ubisoft Montreal has once again used its noggin wisely to make the combat system accessible without sacrificing on continuity. This has been achieved with the incorporation of an overdrive meter into the system, which builds as you land successful attacks and block incoming assaults. The higher the three tier meter rises, the more Jutsus you can perform and with increased power as well (so long as you can hold that bubble long enough).
Naruto does learn a new Jutsu about halfway through the main campaign from the aptly named Pervy Sage. Mastering this Rasengen Jutsu takes quite a bit of training through a series of missions, but this proves essential in the ensuing battle that Tsunade, Pervy Sage, and Naruto have with Orochimaru and Mad Scientist Kabuto. This battle truly is epic (not least because of the skyscraper sized frog, snake, and slug that it includes) and a textbook example of the sort of storytelling spliced up with gameplay that Ubisoft Montreal's Naruto games have excelled at.
Broken Bond uses interactive cut-scenes more perfectly than in any game we can remember. They're reserved for the most dramatic parts of the game and because this drama is built up so well through the storyline, they form a rapturous climax to the action. This can be also said for many other elements in the game: whether it's a tricky platform section, a sedate mini-game that you'll come across on your travels (e.g. catching fish), or a lightning fast Tree Action Sequence, Broken Bond throws such a wide variety of different gameplay opportunities at you with such finely balanced pacing that it's simply impossible to get bored.
The open world of Broken Bond is markedly different from what we experienced in Rise of a Ninja. While the game does start in the Hidden Leaf Village hub, Orochimaru's attack leaves the village dilapidated, meaning that you don't end up coming back to it until about halfway through the game. Instead, you're led out into an expansive world that's more cohesively put together than Rise of a Ninja's. From here, the game's linear mission structure leads you into new areas between smaller towns and villages.
Smaller does not necessarily mean that there's less to do though. Tanzaku Town forms a temporary hub fairly early on and there are certainly a few tricks to be learned in this bustling marketplace. The mini-games on offer, from fish scooping to whack-a-snake, allow Naruto to earn some extra cash for health and chakra pills (which replace the recollection clips from Rise of a Ninja for a swifter dynamic). He'll also need to win prizes from the games - which are fiendishly difficult and actually pretty addictive as well - as part of the Rasengen Jutsu missions.
Naruto The Nomad
As homely as Tanzaku Town might be, you always feel as if you're on the move for the game's opening few hours of play. It's not until you return to the Hidden Leaf Village that things get a bit more grounded. However, the village still appears very run-down and with Sasuke's condition (we're trying hard not to spoil things here) the mood is always uneasy, teeing up the second half of the story perfectly. It's these sorts of touches that make Naruto a magic game. The fighting and platform games are competent in their own rights, but with all the additional mini-games and atmosphere in the game, Broken Bond becomes a thoroughly immersive experience with a story that sucks you in like a good graphic novel (a very rare gaming experience indeed).
As with last year's game, the fighting elements of the main story are extended into standalone fighting games both locally and online. Neat features such as a Ranked Tournament (which allows players to rank-up from Student to Hokage) as well as tag team match-ups, make for supplementary modes that attach many more hours of gaming fun to the main campaign's 10-odd hours of length. The fighting game by itself may not be deep enough to rival the likes of genre heavyweights such as Soul Calibur IV, but it's a solid offering with a wide range of characters that bring their own unique moves and Jutsus to the table, as well as some endearing manga style animations to boot.
If we didn't already love the cel-shaded visuals of Rise of a Ninja, then we're positively besotted with them this time around. Sharper animations have been added all-round, with additions including fully rendered cut-scenes (rather than last year's FMV sequences) adding to the immersion. It's the little touches though - such as fireflies that congregate around trees during the game's night time sections - that really had us believing in Broken Bond's world. Possibly the finest example of cel-shaded visuals seen in a videogame to date, Broken Bond is at the very least a shining beacon for developers using similar animation techniques.
Broken Bond's accompanying musical score may well be cheesy, as it flits willingly between classic rock and traditional Japanese music, but that's not to say it isn't fitting. As with all other elements of the game, Broken Bond's music is always faithful to the anime source material. Recurring musical themes - such as the humorous track that's played whenever Pervy Sage is being, well, pervy - are a particularly entertaining addition. We also liked the option to use the Japanese voices straight out of the box rather than with DLC, as was the case with Rise of a Ninja.