GAMES - Review
09:26 - 5th July 2013, by Matt Kamen

Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive

Those multi-tailed beasts that pepper the Naruto mythology are, frankly, a bit of a pain. Generally locked into some poor schmuck's body, they have an unfortunate habit of getting loose and wreaking havoc on the world. So when the plot of the latest Shippuden brawler-cum-action adventure game revolves around having to track down and defeat the whole lot of them, you know trouble is on the cards. Everything kicks off when the Nine-Tailed Beast, the one that's supposed to be trapped inside Naruto himself, attacks a rival ninja village, disrupting a tenuous peace treaty held with the protagonists' own Hidden Leaf village.

Story-wise, Kizuna Drive offers the usual kind of non-canon Naruto storyline that most of the video games do, though it does slot nicely into the anime series' continuity at around the point of Shippuden part five. That is to say, it's serviceable, but far from essential - the core of the game is really in its combat mechanics.
Offering only a few game modes - single player scenario, wireless local multiplayer, and free mission mode - it might feel a little light on the ground to start with. However, there's a noticeable spike in the difficulty compared to earlier PSP Naruto games, and more missions to complete in each mode, so the challenge and length combine to ensure you get your money's worth.

Each chapter is played with a squad of four characters - initially just Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, and Shikamaru, though more characters become available as you progress through the story. Combat is deceptively simple - most of the time you'll be bashing circle to unleash combos, though a drip-feed of new techniques sees your moveset quickly expand. Press triangle after a few hits and you'll use the series' signature 'teleport' moves. Soon after that, you'll learn hitting square requests an assist from one of your three team-mates. Your more impressive moves drain chakra, and though it can be recharged by holding down square, it leaves you open to attack, making each battle a matter of teamwork and good timing. We were impressed by the AI of the support characters, generally healing, attacking and supporting precisely when needed.

The biggest addition by far is the 'Kizuna Drive' of the title - approach a stunned enemy and hit triangle and circle together and you'll trigger a group attack. It plays as a sort of mini-game within battle, allowing you to bat your enemies around via a 'Simon Says' button response mechanic, creating seemingly limitless combos. But, if you mess up the timing or hit the wrong button, you take huge damage yourself. Kizuna points earned this way can be used to resurrect fallen allies or produce other benefits. There are some light RPG elements to the game too, in the form of scrolls awarded after each chapter depending on your performance. These can be equipped to your party members to boost their strength, healing capacity, chakra or other abilities.

Despite all this, the game as a whole feels like a repeat of previous efforts - not quite the nadir of lazy yearly updates some franchises suffer from, but close. Yet, while Kizuna Drive isn't going to win awards for originality, if you don't mind occasionally replaying a level and you haven't picked up an earlier Naruto game, then this is still worth a look

Kizuna Drive is actually a great little brawler, with some simple yet effective character upgrades, an expansive roster and some genuinely challenging boss fights.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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