If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's a familiar life lesson and also the approach that Namco-Bandai has taken with the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series of fighting games. The first game established the easygoing controls and frantic pace. The second installment greatly expanded the character roster. And now, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3, the third game in the series, brings balance to the force.
Once again, Naruto Uzumaki and 44 of his ninja pals have come together for a one-on-one fighting fest that combines button mashing and strategy in much the same way that Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. games do. The buttons let you jump, block, attack, and throw knives or other objects at your opponent. Special attacks, or Jutsu as they're known in the Naruto universe, are performed by double-tapping the directional pad and pressing the attack button.
Sounds simple, and it is. However, you'll quickly discover that winning requires a keen sense of timing: knowing when to change places in the arena, knowing when to tap the block button to teleport behind your opponent, and knowing how to activate your Jutsu during a combo for maximum damage.
The arenas themselves also come into play. In most, you can jump into the background or climb to higher levels. Some have hazards you have to watch out for, such as puddles that will slow you down, or man-eating spiders that'll take a bite out of you. Trees and sparring dummies can be smashed, releasing health items, knives, bombs, and other useful goodies. If Nintendo isn't going to bring Super Smash Bros. to Sony consoles, we won't complain when other companies borrow some of Nintendo's ideas, especially when those ideas make each fight frantic and fun.
Anyone that played Ultimate Ninja 2 remembers that it had more than a few balance issues. Some characters were too strong. Others were downright worthless. In this third game, everyone seems to be able to hold their own. The new jutsu clash gimmick also helps. Before, characters with speedier specials could just steamroll characters whose jutsu was slower to unleash. Now, when characters perform jutsu at the same time, they'll lock arms and trigger a button mashing minigame. This is a fairer way of handling things, because regardless of who wins the minigame, nobody ends up pinned in the corner.