Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4 Review

You've read reviews for games based on anime licenses before, and what do they all say? All together now: "Only good for fans of the show." I've even written those words in a Dragonball review or two, and usually that is just the way it is. The games are ok, but strictly appealing to those who love whatever they are based on. This review, for Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Council 4, is going to be a bit different, as I am not really a Naruto fan. I love the show's look and character designs, but I've found that the anime is much too slow-paced (this coming from a Dragonball fan… ouch) to keep my interest. Different strokes and all that, right? I do, however, have a soft spot for Naruto when it comes to his video games, especially the Ninja Council (or Saikyou Ninja Daikesshuu in Japan) series. Each entry in the long-running series has had it's problems, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing each and every one – large, colorful sprites, solid side-scrolling action… I basically live for this stuff. So does Ninja Council 4, the first game in the series to explore the Naruto "sequel," Naruto Shippuden, hold up against the previous ones? In some ways, you bet. In others… umm… not so much.

Let's get this out of the way first – Ninja Council 4 for is actually Naruto: Shippuden: Saikyou Ninja Daikesshuu 5 in Japan. For whatever reason, the third in the series (and the first on the DS; the two previous games call the Gameboy Advance home) was skipped over for localization here in the states, resulting in a Final Fantasy-esque numbering screw-up. And while this is a review for Ninja Council 4, I felt you needed the background, mostly because the third game (the one that didn't make it here) is the best in the series and I'll be referencing it from time to time.

Ninja Council 4 picks up the Naruto storyline at around the beginning of the Shippuden series, where the characters, Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, etc., all look a little more adult, and the plot takes a somewhat darker turn. If you don't know the show, the game's plot will fly right over your head without a second glance. Here's the thing – the story doesn't make a lick of difference anyway, as I was able to enjoy and finish the imported version months ago without the benefit of being able to follow the story (I don't speak Japanese). Plot or not plot, this series has always been about running, jumping, fighting and boss battles. There isn't any need for a nuanced, intelligent story to drive the player to run to the right and hop from platform to platform.

As with the other games in this series, the relatively simple gameplay is hindered by a few small annoyances, but let's talk about the good stuff first. As you make your way through the game, you'll be moving along a board game-like map, finishing stages and opening the path to the end. This is much better than the previous game's grid of missions, where you just finished all the objectives with similar difficulty levels before opening the next wave, because it gives more of a sense that you are working toward something, not just checking things off a to-do list. This comes as a very welcome change.