The Naruto Shippuden anime series and manga has been around for a long time and has several games to its name, but none quite like this. Based off of a spin-off series starring both Naruto and Rock Lee, Powerful Shippuden is full of just as much bombastic action as it is non-stop hilarity. Instead of an fighting game that takes place either on a 2D plane or 3D environment, the game is 2D side-scrolling beat 'em up. The game is split into two interlocking campaigns between Naruto and Lee and the action and jokes flow throughout.
Not only are all the characters and enemies drawn in an exaggerated chibi-style and constantly crack jokes during dialogue, but everyone fully realizes that they are not only in a video game, but that they are drawn in a chibi-style. This leads to several hilarious conversations, especially early in the game, referring to the fact that everything in Powerful Shippuden takes place in a video game. Instead of trying to get analytical or meta about the situation, it's purely for jokes and follows the setup through with lots of fast-paced action.
At the start of the game you're presented with the choice between playing Naruto's or Lee's missions, but you can freely switch back and forth throughout the game. Each character has the same basic controls, but the way that they actually play is quite different. Naruto is very quick and agile, with a nice repertoire of special ninjutsu attacks that can devastate enemies, while Lee is a purely physical fighter relying on slower, but more powerful attacks.
Over the course of the game, you complete various different missions that involve doing various things such as reaching the end of a stage within the time limit, surviving waves of enemies, or collecting a certain number of items in an area. Generally, the missions do a nice job of keeping things engaging throughout the course of the game, but it definitely gets extremely repetitive and is clearly designed to be played exclusively in short bursts of time. If I played for much more than an hour at a time, I found myself quite bored with the structure and pace of the game since most missions were similar and could be completed in just a few minutes each.
You unlock different abilities and allies to summon as you play through the game, but seldom does it really change the way you play the game. Most enemies approach combat the same way and often are just palette swaps of the same general enemy type. With that being said however, the actual character, enemy and environment design are both incredibly colorful and full of personality. This is also true of the game's soundtrack and minimalistic Japanese voice-acting. Several outbursts, taunts and cheers can be heard from the main characters and supporting cast as a sort of reference of the game reminding you that, "Hey, you remember this game is Japanese, right!?"
The game could have really benefited from a more varied mission layout, mini games or at least some more variety in how missions would be played. The player can only mash Y while running to the right so many times before it grows a bit stale. The humor and general dialogue does a nice job of giving you something to look forward to every couple minutes, but it's not really enough to keep an average player going. Since there are already two characters, it would have been really nice to have some type of coop or multiplayer mode in the game, as there could have been a lot of possibilities there.
In the end, Powerful Shippuden is a fun and light-hearted entry into the massive library of Naruto titles that really stands on its own. There isn't a whole lot of depth or content to sink your teeth into with the game, but it partially makes up for those shortcomings with some really funny writing and nice art direction. While it is fun in short bursts and full of laughs, I would not recommend playing this game if you are not a Naruto fan. I didn't walk away from this game feeling like it changed the way I view beat 'em ups or even with a new-found adoration for the characters, but I enjoyed the time I had. Sometimes it can be fun to just play a quirky game that doesn't take itself seriously at all and engage in a bit of excessive button-mashing!
This review was based on a physical review copy of the game for the Nintendo 3DS provided by Namco Bandai.