At first glance, you may consider Clash of Ninja another quick-cash, cartoon tie-in designed to make somebody a lot of bank. It'll pull in some serious cash, but not because of blind fanboy devotion - this is a lightning quick, anime-soaked whirlwind of a fighting game that'll speak to anyone looking for an accessible, chop-socky brawler.
Played a one-on-one fighter before? Sure you have. As such, you already know everything there is to know about Clash of Ninja. Pick an adolescent ninja-in-training and proceed to throttle the other combatant, be it another classmate or a sword-wielding villain. There are eight fighters ready to go, with a few more waiting in the shadows, begging to be unlocked. They all have similar moves and a screen-filling mega attack that really eats up the other guy's life bar. Which one you play as, though, is more a personal preference than a balance between fighting styles.
Though most of the characters control alike, they're all easy to play. The B button is a close-quarters attack, while the A button hurls a ninja-trademarked shuriken (or dagger equivalent) across the battleground. Seeing as there are only two attack buttons, combos are simple but quickly mastered. It's not the deepest scrapper out there, or even on the GameCube, but the fact that anyone can jump in and start dishing out some pain is a plus. But Clash of Ninja is far from a mindless button masher.
As you're getting smacked around, tapping the L trigger teleports you out of the attack and plops you right behind (or above) the jerkhole who won't let up. Now you can start wailing this guy before he even knows where you've gone. But don't get too cocky, because the opponent can pull the same trick. Lots of fights start out like a typical game, but once the fists start flying, you'll be teleporting all over the arena in a constant, cel-shaded typhoon of limbs.
Another knuckle-breaking feature is the ability to cancel hits of the same power level. As you can see below, Naruto and Iruka have unleashed punches that negate each other. Getting three of these in a row really makes the parry-dodge-parry action pop to life.
If the back-and-forth disappearing act isn't enough for you tech-minded fighters, there's also a basic, but effective counter system. Each character has a stance in which they automatically counterattack; someone hits you while you're doing this move, you teleport (much like the L button move) above or behind them, ready to go. Yeah, it's not the hardest counter to pull off, but given the game's breakneck pace, cutting out hardcore memorization opens it up for more players.
Plugging in with some two-player action is a total blast. The computer tends to go a little easy on the "all over the place" with normal difficulty settings, whereas actual people want a fight that embarrasses the other player and looks cool.
Given the slim pickins on the GameCube, Clash of Ninja offers a dojo-full of anime action that can't be duplicated. The frenetic, out-of-control battles take no time to warm up to, but fighting enthusiasts will probably shudder at the game's simplicity. In fact, the scraps' straightforwardness is the only real downer here. Eventually you're going to want a little more and it just won't be there.