Naruto: Rise Of A Ninja has been one of the funnest platformer/fighting games for me in a while. So many aspects of the game make it this fun for me: the lively cell-shading, the unique fight modes, the multiplayer, the story and the overall quirkiness.
The cell-shading in the game has been really well done, for a game of 2007 it looks great, and the characters look very close to their manga/anime counterparts (only slightly upsetting character was Kakashi, but I digress). The clouds that appear from running really fast, landing, or a ninja appearing out of thin air create a very comic-looking atmosphere. The fast pace motion keeps up for the most part with Naruto when he's running top speed and the buildings, people and different jutsus look amazing, very well done.
This continues into the fighting sequences, which are unique in my opinion including the "creating signs" portion of it. During the gameplay Naruto (or another character you choose in Fight Mode) are able to create signs by holding down LT and using the analog sticks to go in different directions. By moving in different directions with the analog sticks you create different sequences of hand signs which form a jutsu. For Naruto he does his famous Shadow Clone Jutsu and creates multiples of himself in order to pummel a person. But the technique doesn't stop there! A mini-game appears, usually unique to each characters specialized jutsu. Continuing with Naruto, you must choose a certain amount of ABXY buttons in a certain sequence of your choosing. Each time Naruto sends in his doppelgangers it'll show up to use the button that you used in the sequence you chose. Click it too soon and they'll disappear, click it too late and the other player/CPU gets a chance at clicking it first, resulting in failure. This is well balanced and gives so many players chances to have the other person fail.
It's not that easy to begin the hand signals though! You have to make sure you have a good distance from the other player before attempting, otherwise they could spoil it for you by hitting you or throwing a kunai! Yes, there are kunais in the game as well! What sort of Naruto universe avoids them! There are even exploding kunai! Snap.
By comboing different techniques you create opportunities to perform your jutsu; using killer moves creates a large window of opportunity. A killer move is a large hit that knocks the opponent a certain distant away. In doing this (if you remember the sequence of hand signs for your character you have chosen), you're able to perform the jutsu! I especially love unlocking Rock Lee's 8 Inner Gates (though at the time he's only able to open 5... sorry, little Naruto nostalgia seeping in), in which it boosts his speed incredibly and power of attacks, pummeling your poor slow opponent into unconsciousness. There are also grapples, jumping, air attacking combos, blocking, and the Substitution Jutsu. Just like Reversals in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or other fighting games for that matter, Substitution Jutsu allows a player to time when you block in order to escape in a comic looking cloud with the opponent left fighting a log. You, the escape artist, appear behind the player, befuddling them and allowing a window of opportunity to strike. But beware, this uses your precious Chakra, just like other Jutsus in this game.
Chakra is the life blood of each fighter. Under each health bar your character has a Chakra meter, which gets used up the more you charge your Chakra for a Jutsu, or use the Substitution. Expending the Chakra is a chancy game, considering if you use it up, it charges quite slowly. Leaving you defenseless and unable to substitute out of an attack.
The fighting sequences are included in the single player, but are only for fighting boss battles, training and defeating bandits. The true fun in Naruto single player is in the platforming world. At first you'll continually become frustrated at being unable to reach certain locations in the map, and simply note it down to, "This area is unachievable to get to!" Soon you'll realize though, that as Naruto learns more of the ways of a ninja of the Leaf Village, you too shall learn how to reach those so called, "unachievable" heights! Naruto learns many different ways to reach areas faster, higher and farther with the expanding knowledge of his Chakra and how to manipulate it. With his many masters teaching you the ways of the ninja, you (not in real life, please don't try this at home!) learn to climb walls, walk across water, leap great distances and even Shadow Clone punch your way through wood, rock and steel in order to attain new areas and collectables.
Some of the control you have while running with Naruto at top speed leaves you frustrated. You'll miss spots you intend to go plenty of times, and even become angry that a slight touch of the joystick (no matter how gentle) sends you careening into the water (which Naruto never learns how to swim in, thanks Grand Theft Auto!). This leads into another increasingly sensitive fast paced mini-game: the tree branch sequences. As you know, all ninjas need to be able to leap from branch to branch, this gets them around faster into areas that are extremely far away. This is represented in the Rise Of A Ninja through tree sequences, in which you guide Naruto as he leaps through the tree foliage. When landing on a branch, you must quickly press A to jump to the next branch. Easy enough, right? Well each time you leap, you go faster, kind of like walking down a steep hill. While this does sound exciting, the sensitivity for changing directions to another branch, since there's usually different branches to leap on at a time, could send you into a rock or tree trunk and make you lose process as you fall down. Why would you switch to a different branch you ask? Because of those rocks... and the fact that somebody is constantly bombarding the forest with fire balls for some crazy reason. Everybody just really hates the forest!
The collectables and optional missions throughout the game make it last, though can be increasingly frustrating and sometimes bland. After awhile you get sick of delivering Ramen to the same person cloned throughout the entire village, hearing the same things and only being able to complete the rest through the furthering of your knowledge of jutsus to get around. There are different side missions including: Ninja Races, Hide-And-Seek with Konohamaru (little annoying kid, you'll learn to hate him and his jibes), and stunning Lovelorn Villagers with your Sexy Jutsu (leave it to the writer of Naruto and his creepy, yet hilarious, imagination at this one). Performing these side missions earns you money, stars for training, added points to your Health and Chakra bars, as well as earning making villagers in Leaf Village like you. Throughout the village, and outside the village, are included Ancient Coins and Gold Coins, which are used as other currency along with the bills you get, at certain shops.
Collecting these coins and spending them at the shops is incredibly satisfying, as you can only make Naruto stronger by doing this (along with training, of course). You're able to upgrade your Kunais into stronger weapons, forged of better material, even endowing them with explosive properties. You're able to upgrade your ramen and carrying capacity for both your ramen and kunais. Ramen is used in the game as a "health potion" for Naruto. If you're weak on health on your journey you can just plop yourself on the ground in dangerous environment, forget everything, and just stuff your face back to full health. Makes me want to try Ramen! Another shop, which includes extra content for the game including concept art and sound tracks, adds more depth to the game and allows big fans to enjoy the universe better.
Along the way you earn stars for training, you spend these stars with one of your masters in order to learn new combos for fighting sequences, increase your overall strength or upgrade your Jutsus to higher levels, allowing you to use them in tougher circumstances. There is is just so much to do in this game that you can invest a lot of time and hours into it.
The multiplayer experience is all fine and dandy, like playing Fight Mode with a person on your Xbox with you, just over Xbox LIVE. But there's also the Forest of Death Exam! Which can be so satisfying getting higher on the tournament-like ladder, but also extremely disappointing when you lose. As you start from the very beginning. Ragers suck when it comes to this game, as people who are high on the ladder with you and are losing can simply Sign Out from their profile and not lose their progress on the ladder, making it unfair while you're pummeling them. Getting to the tops is one of the ultimate satisfactions.
The achievements for the game are very easy when it comes to the single player: beat the game, beat Kakashi, do all the side missions, get everybody to like you (BOOHOO). Only hard ones are collecting all the coins, as there are A LOT of coins to collect, and the map for the village and other parts isn't very versatile or detailed. The only thing I wish if there was an added feature at the end of the game that helps you along with collecting the last remaining coins, ah well. Multiplayer achievements are another thing, you must get to the top of the Forest of Death Exam with every single character. This is nigh on impossible considering the amount of people who would want to screw you over, as well as the lack of players anymore on LIVE for this game. You also earn points throughout the Forest of Death Exam, which leads to another achievement of accumulating a certain amount.
There is DLC for this game, which I in particular salivate at the idea of adding more content to this awesome game. More characters WERE available at a time, but due to some glitch and for some reason removing the DLC characters from Xbox LIVE Marketplace, they are no longer available and I can't review them. Which is really disappointing, as I love all the DLC characters which included: Choji, Temari, Sarutobi (The Third Hokage), Jiraiya, and Shikamaru.
I suggest going out and getting this game, but only for those who don't care about 100% completing it, and just playing a fun game in general. As the only thing you'll get is 1000 GS, but not the full 1075 GS.