From manga to anime, anime to videogame, Naruto's rise in popularity has been meteoric since its debut in the weekly Japanese magazine Shonen Jump in 1999. Since then the universe of this garish orange be-jump-suited, young ninja has exploded, garnering and delighting fans across the globe and Naruto's first chakra-charged outing on PSP is no exception.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes excels in providing an exceptional beat 'em up experience on PSP, which is in keeping with its rich background.
Two game modes dominate the action. Heroes Mode is based on the squad system of the Ninja Academy; a team of three ninjas such as Squad 7 comprised of Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha, do battle against opposing squads over a number of stages.
At each stage you choose the order in which your three characters will enter the melee. Your chosen combatant then fights until they're knocked out or all of your opponents are defeated. Each victory earns you a Health reward for that character, while failure means the next member of your team will enter the fray. A team bonus of both Health and Chakra is given at the completion of each stage.
Before combat begins at each stage you also have the option of using skills to enhance your squad members or hinder your opponents. Naruto can employ Sexy Jutsu to lower an opponent's attack twice, Sakura can recover a squad member's Chakra three times, and Sasuke is able to use Chidori once to lower an opponent's health.
These options add a layer of tactical consideration to the game. By picking the order in which your characters battle you're able to rest heroes on certain stages, while wise use of skills is crucial to overcoming the more difficult levels of Heroes Mode.
Characters can use Chakra to perform a range of specialist attacks from Naruto unleashing the power of the Nine-Tailed Fox demon to assault his opponent with a barrage of attacks, to Sakura channelling her inner rage to create a ghostly, giant reflection of herself that crushes her opponents between its ethereal palms.
Animation for all of these special attacks is beautiful; throughout the game the anime-like visuals are gorgeous and slickly animated, and make you feel like part of the show.
Promotion Test is the second prominent mode. In it you're set very specific tasks, such as to defeat your opponent in so many counts or win with full Chakra. Additionally, to access these tests of skill you must acquire different coloured scrolls from Heroes Mode or the traditional VS. battles. To partake in a Genin level test requires 12 of each scroll, while Chunin level requires 24 for instance. Success in these tests will take you from Academy ranking to the venerable position of Hokage.
A final touch allows you to customise characters with Power-Up points, which are earned after every battle. A character's Attack, defence, Speed, Chakra, Stamina and Weapon attacks can all be increased over time. This development is essential for tackling the tougher levels of Heroes Mode and the advanced Promotion Tests.
For fans, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes is a must, fitting perfectly into the ever-growing cannon of this manga and anime phenomenon. For anyone that likes a good beat 'em up on PlayStation, which also adds new dimensions to the traditional VS. format, then this is a sure contender.