Six months after the original game hit the GameCube in the US, D3 and Tomy have cranked out Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2, and the experience is so similar that it barely feels like a different game. More of the same might sound good to fans of the first Clash of Ninja, but the new additions are insignificant and do little to address the game's lean feature set or lack of depth.
Clash of Ninja 2 assumes that you will already be familiar with the whimsical and ninja-filled world of Naruto, and the story mode makes little mention of Naruto's origin as a wicked nine-tailed fox demon. Instead, the streamlined story mode focuses on the events after Naruto and friends have graduated from the ninja academy, with their confrontation with Haku and Zabuza on the bridge and the trials of the Chunin Exam serving as a couple of the highlights. It's a longer story mode than what Clash of Ninja offered, and it also lets you play as characters other than Naruto, which is refreshing, but it's basically a string of fights with some still character shots and enthusiastic TV-anime-grade voice acting between fights to help move the story along. Still, it's probably where you'll spend a lot of your time, as the game doesn't have a whole lot else to offer. If you're on your own, you can play against the computer in standard one-off, survival, and time attack matches. There's also a training mode where you can beat up on a submissive sparring partner, but it focuses almost exclusively on executing combos and gives you little instruction on evading attacks or triggering special moves. Playing through the various single-player modes will earn you cash that you can spend at an in-game shop, which mostly stocks special scrolls that will increase the potency of your attacks and hobble your opponents. It's a decent, minor addition, but it's got an annoying quirk where you're automatically dumped back to the main menu after buying a single item, which makes multiple purchases a chore.
You can play against a friend, and new to Clash of Ninja 2 is the introduction of four-way fighting, which comes up a few times during the story mode. You can also get into a four-way brawl with computer-controlled opponents, live opponents, or a combination of the two in the multiplayer mode, where you can choose whether it's two-on-two, three-on-one, or a frenzied free-for-all. Taking on multiple enemies at once makes the game seem more like a beat-'em-up than a straight-up fighting game, and it definitely makes the game more hectic. It also muddles the action, as the controls aren't ideal for four-way fighting. They haven't been changed at all since Clash of Ninja, so the feature ends up feeling tacked on.
First-timers may find a little fun in the button-mashing action, but returning fans will no doubt be disappointed.
Basic attacks can be performed easily with the A and B buttons, and you're all but guaranteed some kind of multihit combo if you randomly tap on these buttons repeatedly. Blocking occurs automatically, so long as your character is not in motion. You can use the Y button to throw opponents, and the X button activates your character's unique special attack. Most of the characters have a unique feel to them, but the fundamental combat is so simple that you don't really need to alter your technique, which makes the expanded roster of Clash of Ninja 2 seem somewhat irrelevant. The action is flashy, with lots of ninja smoke, aerial attacks, flying shuriken, and absurd, over-the-top special moves, and the cel-shaded character models look solid and are animated with an appropriately exaggerated flair. However, the arenas are uniformly small and a bit sterile, and the number of moves each character has is so limited that it's not very satisfying to play. Some high-energy Japanese-themed background music helps give the action some urgency, but the game is also plagued by obnoxiously repetitive character-specific sound bites. Additionally, there are some clunky aspects left over from Clash of Ninja, most notably the frustratingly slow turnaround time for characters when they end up facing away from their opponents.
Clash of Ninja 2 is slightly more fleshed out than its predecessor, but the few updates and changes do little to negate the sensation of sameness that the game exudes. The eight returning characters have received no enhancements, and most of the arenas you'll fight in were featured in the first game. It ultimately makes this technically superior sequel harder to recommend than the original, especially when you consider the close proximity of the two releases.