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Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Ad-Hoc)
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive has a lot of good points that make it an intriguing game, at least on paper. Unfortunately, the game's biggest mechanic, four-player teamed fights, has some pitfalls.

Kizuna Drive's graphics are about on par with past Naruto 3D fighters like Naruto Shippuden Legends: Akatsuki Rising. The characters look good, but the animation comes off a bit jerkily. One of the more aggravating aspects of the game's visuals come with the nature of the game itself. As a brawler, you are confined to relatively small arenas to fight in and you will quickly visit the few different fighting areas the game has to offer. Put simply, the game's locations and backgrounds get repetitive and fast.

Standard Naruto music is ever present throughout the game as well as both Japanese and English dialogue as characters grunt or shout out their various commands and jutsu while on the field. In the grand scheme of things, the game's audio is on par with past Naruto titles.


Gameplay:
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive will be most appealing to existing fans of the show. Even though the story presented in this game is original, there is very little actual character development, so only experienced Naruto followers need apply.

In Kizuna Drive's Story Mode, Naruto and his friends are fingered for an attack on a remote village and you must shed some light on the goofball ninja's good name. In the process, you will unlock new fighters from the show, and pretty much everyone of note is here. Before each mission, you will not only be able to setup your four-man squad, but you will also be able to customize your characters with any number of scrolls and abilities you've been able to win in your previous missions.

Unfortunately, the missions themselves are very generic and, with the exception of big boss fights, you will be dumped into one small arena after another only being allowed to progress once you've cleared out the current wave of enemies. As I mentioned when talking about the game's backgrounds, this gets redundant.

Where Kizuna Drive gets interesting is the fact that you and your three squadmates will be in the same arena fighting the same enemies. Where it falters a bit is the fact that the A.I. that guides the unmanned characters aren't all that good. Unlike teaming up with four human-controlled characters (which requires a UMD for each player), you will have to use in-game commands to call for help or direct your allies. There are times when this kind of wasted time hurts, and that's provided the A.I. characters actually do a good job performing the action you requested.

The game also offers a Free Mode that lets you try out non-Story based missions in order to try and earn more Kizuna points, the points that unlock various scrolls and jutsu. Again, these can be played solo or with a team, but much like the Story Missions, the A.I. isn't very good and the best playing experience will be gained from playing co-op with other actual humans.

Even if you are playing solo, the game does a good job of rewarding you for teamwork. As you fight, you can assist other fighters in attacks or even heal them if they are hurt. As you do tasks like this, you will earn Kizuna points, and the higher the points at the end of the fight, the more scrolls you unlock and the better you can customize your fighters.


Difficulty:
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is all about customizing your characters in order to get the most bang for your buck when going into a new mission. While the game is best played with as few A.I.-controlled fighters as possible, even a single player can overcome these issues if you make a good fighter that can handle what is coming his or her way. Of course, this typically means losing the mission one or two times in order to know how to outfit your crew, and that can get a little frustrating after a while.

Game Mechanics:
Ultimately, Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is just a button-masher through and through. To make things worse, its a button-masher where the only one you have to hit is the (O) button. Sure, other face buttons will do things like let you use items or jump, but most of your combos involve that one button and maybe a (Triangle) thrown in for some extra oomph.

When it comes down to it, Kizuna Drive attempts to be a brawler that takes the anime and manga's four-man squad concept and puts into a practice. The problems are that as a brawler, its mediocre at best since you are basically hitting the same button with no real regard to their actions, and as a four-man co-op game, the stand-in A.I. doesn't do all that well and the chance that you might actually have four friends with copies of this game so you can use the Ad-Hoc multiplayer seems pretty unlikely.

Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive just feels like it would have been a lot better on a console so that you and your three friends could get together in a party and play through the missions over the Internet. If you are looking for a good portable Naruto game, then look elsewhere; there are far better ones already on the shelves.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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