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Hands-on: Naruto Ultimate Ninja Heroes

Any anime fan that's played CyberConnect's Ultimate Ninja series on PlayStation 2 will find themselves instantly familiar with the upcoming PSP Ultimate Ninja Heroes. This PSP-exclusive Naruto game transplants the fighting engine of its PS2 cousin in a game that's not quite a sequel, yet not quite a remake.

For a PSP game, it certainly impresses. The cel-shaded graphics look quite remarkable on the PSP's smaller screen. Since the PS2 original didn't use the analog sticks for fighting, the controls have translated quite well on the portable. We were really surprised by the game's quick load times, which lasted for only a few seconds. In fact, we'd surmise that the game loads much faster than its PS2 counterpart.

Although the fighting engine in the Ultimate Ninja series has never been celebrated for its depth, it does faithfully recreate the battles found throughout the Naruto series. Quick dodging, counters, and special moves are key to victory, and the PSP version is no different. We don't know if we were doing something wrong, but we found that the Chakra-based special attacks were limited in the PSP edition. While in the PS2 versions, each character could have up to 4 different attacks, we only saw one. Also, the "tag team" element of the game doesn't involve active switching of characters. Rather, each team of three sends out a single fighter, and when a character gets KO'ed, the next character in the roster jumps in. To be honest, we were hoping for more team-based gameplay.

Overall, we were impressed by Naruto Ultimate Ninja Heroes. It offers a solid fighting engine that's faithful to the anime, and its quick load times, large character roster, and use of Game Sharing, make it potentially the best anime licensed fighter on the system.

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