(Namco Bandai for PSP)
By Mike Delano
The simple, fast and loose fighting mechanics of the Naruto games are tailor-made for portable gaming. There are lots of flashy one-button attacks and no complicated move lists to memorize, but the fights still have an epic feel to them, as characters jump between two 2D planes in gorgeous 3D battlefields, hurling infinite projectiles and hoarding energy for devastating super attacks. The PSP has the power to pull off the Naruto look, too. Everything in The Phantom Fortress looks as colorful and crisp as it does on the PS2 Naruto games. Unfortunately, one of the very few things that distinguish this sequel from the original PSP Naruto entry, a single-player story-based adventure, is fatally flawed. Sure, the one-on-one battles are still the heart of the game, but the main single-player campaign has a lazy board game layout, with Naruto’s party shuffling between squares on the way to the top of the titular fortress. Between battle squares, you have to suffer through a parade of lame mini-games, such as slot machines, pseudo shell games, Naruto-based trivia, and even straight-up button memorization, as well as some slow-moving static cutscenes. It’s all in the pursuit of “ninja points” (and the denouement of a loopy narrative, I guess), which can be used to unlock items, but you’ll be itching for something more substantive. Of course, you can always forgo the fortress and focus strictly on the fighting in Heroes mode, but then you’re left with a game that is strikingly similar to its predecessor.