Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 - hands-on

Last year’s Naruto: Path of the Ninja brought turn-based battling, item collection and party customization to the Naruto franchise, which had otherwise been confined to chop-socky fighting and action-adventuring. For a first-timer’s RPG and a GBA port, it wasn’ttoo shabby. Path of the Ninja 2, due for a September release, looks to be in the same vein as Path 1. Another port of a previously Japan-only GBA title, it’s got the same battle system and stylus-rubbing gameplay, but adds a few new wrinkles that should get fans excited.

Chief among these is the addition of genuine online multiplayer battles via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. It plays out just like multiplayer in a Pokémon title: You set up a match, pick out your party’s line-up, meet your opponent in a lobby, and the battle begins. Fights are turn-based, just like in the single-player modes, with players swapping attacks, buffs and debuffs, and special jutsu moves that turn into stylus duels to see who can rub their touch-screen faster to complete or fend off an attack.

While there aren’t as many characters to choose from as you’d find in Pokémon Pearl/Diamond, there are still plenty, with 30 characters from throughout the Naruto universe selectable. The laws of Naruto lore don’t apply to the multiplayer arena, so you’re free to stick rivals and enemies on the same squad. You can’t be totally random with your roster, though – certain characters bestow special attributes on their party members when they’re made the squad leader. And you’ll have to carefully customize each party member’s skill set – each character gets a number of skill points to spend on special attributes like speed, evasion and more. Making parties with different attributes for specific situations is key, and adds some strategy to the game. It’s kind of like Perks in Call of Duty 4, but with anime ninjas instead of Navy SEALs and terrorists.

And like in COD4, you have to keep playing more and more to unlock skills. Does that mean that, when you log on, you’ll be getting continually trumped by the demented fans out there that have been playing non-stop since day one? Maybe, maybe not. For those playing catch-up or trying to get ahead, the game will feature a Bonus Hour – on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., you’ll get bonus points for battling online. It’s a clever way of getting people to play during the weekend, but judging from our initial impressions, we expect there to be plenty of fans online anyway.

For more Naruto coverage, check out our previewof Clash of Ninja Revolution 2.

Aug 12, 2008