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Naruto: The Broken Bond


Not too long ago Ubisoft released Naruto: Rise of a Ninja for the Xbox 360. It was the console's first Naruto title and quite honestly it proved to be one of the best released in the States. Countless installments in the Naruto franchise have landed on Sony and Nintendo consoles, but considering Microsoft's machine is less than popular in Japan it's no surprise that our pool of games is rather limited. Ubisoft's title must have been successful enough to warrant a sequel because today we're looking at Naruto: The Broken Bond.

If you're familiar with the franchise then you'll instantly recognize what part of the anime is featured here. Then again, if you're only familiar with the game you'll also be glad to know that this one picks up right where the previous game left off. Without giving too much away in case you haven't seen the show up to this point, Naruto and Sasuke kind of go their separate ways after some specific events. Sasuke becomes more determined to kill his older brother and in order to gain the power necessary to accomplish that goal he has to kill Naruto. The two friends become foes in this part of Naruto's journey and though the game doesn't quite capture the dramatic tones this part of the anime offers it's still pleasing to fans just the same.

Gameplay


Of course the biggest thing concerning this game is the gameplay itself. A story is an integral part of just about every gaming experience, but it's for naught if the gameplay can't hold its own. Thankfully Ubisoft brought back the same game engine as before so if you enjoyed Rise of a Ninja's control and mechanics you'll definitely appreciate what's going on in Broken Bond. With that being said there are some changes afoot.

With regards to exploration you are given more ability to explore and roam around. There are more areas to run up the walls with, more locations to revisit, and even another town (Tanzaki) to ransack. In addition to that there are more missions, forced and optional, and there are plenty of fights and things to collect, but I think I'm getting ahead of myself there. If you're new to the game then all you really need to know is that Naruto: The Broken Bond is an action adventure title. You run around an open environment, accept missions at your pace, and get into plenty of fights in the process.

The fighting engine itself is very strong and similar to the first entry in Ubisoft's series. It's also not too dissimilar from other Naruto games that have appeared on the PS2 and more recently on the PS3 in the form of Ultimate Ninja Storm. Basically the face buttons are relegated to blocking, jumping, and there are two attack options. The shoulder buttons throw kunai, allow you to grab your opponent, let you substitute for another team member, and activate jutsu. There are further intricacies with regards to the fighting engine such as the ability to use substitute jutsu if properly timed, ways to get behind your opponent, and of course combos up the ying-yang. To put it bluntly the engine allows for button mashers and those who spend time mastering it to have a good enough time and chance to beat each other. This is especially true online.

That's right Naruto fans, Broken Bond supports online matches so if you and your buddies want to beat the crap out of each other from the comfort of your respective houses then have at it. There's even an online ranked tournament mode which pits you against random people from around the globe. You gain experience with each win and rise in rank from student to graduate to genin and all the way up to hokage. The system is set up rather well and lag is hardly ever an issue. I will say though that one complaint I have is the fact that there is no skill matching, which means if you're a green student don't be surprised if you square off against a hokage with too much time on his hands. You'll lose, horribly, but just move onto the next round and hope you are given a similarly skilled opponent.

The online component is very well implemented (even though it's inconvenient to back out of menus to change characters) though the single player mode will undoubtedly eat up most of your time. Thankfully the forced story missions last a while themselves, but you'll be spending the remainder of your time with the game collecting coins, fishing, playing mini-games, and trying to unlock some of the very challenging achievements.

All around Naruto: The Broken Bond is a highly successful sequel to Rise of a Ninja. The gameplay is just as solid, the online mode is pretty good, and all around the game should last you a while. With that being said there is part of me that felt the game was "too" similar to the first title and would have appreciated more tweaks to the engine. I suppose if it isn't broken you shouldn't fix it, but sequels should always at least try some new things to keep the experience fresh for returning players. If you're a Naruto fan and you own a 360 you definitely should give Ubisoft's franchise a try and this latest one is every bit as fun to play as the original.

Achievements


The achievements in Naruto: The Broken Bond are split in terms of difficulty. You'll get a majority of them simply by beating the game and going through key story events, but the remainder are rather challenging. Collecting all 1,533 coins in the game takes a while, the mini-games an Tanzaki are borderline impossible to get first place in, collecting ninja cards is difficult, finding perverted villagers is harder now that they don't have hearts above their heads, and all around the side missions ratchet up the hardness factor. You have to be dedicated to getting the 1,000 achievement points here, but casual players will easily be able to walk away from the game with around 600 by the time they beat the game.

Graphics


The gameplay engine is more or less the same for Broken Bond and so is the graphics engine, for better or worse. The environments look the same, characters look the same (sort of), and all around the animation is every bit as frenzied as it was the first time around. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there are moments in the game which seem a little dated especially after experiencing Ultimate Ninja Storm. Jagged edges appear more frequently than they should, there's some pop-in, and close-ups of characters simply look strange. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the passage of time has yielded better technology and it's time for the visuals here to receive some touch ups. I'd hate to say the original game looked better, but I think the flaws were less noticeable.

Sound


If you're played Naruto games you've undoubtedly heard the same audio over and over again. Familiar voice actors lend authenticity to Broken Bond, both the English and Japanese, and the sound effects are unmistakably pulled from the anime. Everything right down to the music is cued from the show and sounds exactly like you'd expect it would. Immersion isn't this game's strong suit, but if you're just looking for an authentic representation of the anime you've found it here.

Conclusion


If you're a Naruto fan then Broken Bond should definitely be on your play list. Ubisoft's take on the Naruto franchise is every bit as good as its eastern counterparts, and in many ways I'd venture to say that it's even more so. However, with strong titles such as Ultimate Ninja Storm coming out Ubisoft has some competition. Still, if you enjoyed Rise of a Ninja you'll appreciate its direct sequel even though too many elements feel the same. The game is highly recommended though and it's a blast the whole way through.