Yes, it has come to that. Following in the footsteps of past cartoons imported from Japan, such as Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z, Naruto, the story of a young, shunned ninja seeking to become the lead ninja of his village one day, is one of the latest favorites among television audiences ranging from children to young adults. That popularity has led to quite a handful of notable games for the social network.
To be clear, this is hardly the first time a Naruto-themed application has found its way onto Facebook. While the same theme has appeared in fan-created quizzes and gifting, for example, this is one of the first times our attention felt warranted. As a matter of fact, there are two games in question: Naruto Wars and Naruto Ge-mu.
[Update: There’s an official Naruto game that we’ll be reviewing in full, shortly. Meanwhile, the apps below, and all others, appear to be violating Naruto’s copyrights and trademarks.]
Currently earning around 56,000 MAUs, the former is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Mafia Wars style RPG. Players begin by selecting their favorite character and from there proceed to complete missions, buy items, and fight other users. Nonetheless, this is where the similarities to Mafia Wars cease.
The first noteworthy difference is in the mission system. Rather than limiting players based on how much energy they have, missions actually take a period of time to complete, and only one can be done at any given time. These grant you experience toward a new level, but the core focus seems to be fighting other players.
Fighting is certainly simple enough as it is nothing more than a randomly generated battle based on the equipment you have. “Equipment” is more than just knives and armor. It actually includes consumable training, self-defense, ninjitsu (ninja-techniques), and so on. For each battle you equip the items you have and watch the outcome. Win and you earn money and experience, lose, and you get nothing. Unfortunately, this is where the problems began.
You equip items right before a battle. Since the game feels a lot like the standard RPG one would think a button along the lines of “Equipment” would be part of the main menu, in the same spot, for every page — but since it is not, it was actually overlooked a number of times. It wasn’t until after a few ninja butt whoopings that we found it. The location for this feature is just in a very unintuitive spot due to expectations created when the game looked like an RPG. Nonetheless, this is only a piece of a much greater usability issue.
All the player is greeted with when starting the game are statements along the lines of “recruit ninjas to your squad” and “begin fighting other ninjas.” Again, since the game feels like a standard RPG at first, the player expects the game to play a certain way. However, because the game is not like a normal RPG that expectation is far from met, leading to initial confusion and frustration. Even the initial character selection seems to have an effect on what sort of equipment you can get (based on user commentary), yet there doesn’t seem to be anything to really clarify that. Moreover, there are unexplained UI elements, ambiguous missions named “Event lvl X part Y,” and a relatively drab new user experience.
Nevertheless, it is possible to figure out, and was, surprisingly, kind of fun to play after 10 minutes of futzing around with it. Of course, the jury is still out determining if it was worth it or not, and with an extremely basic and uninspired visual style that, put bluntly, looks like basic, mid-90s, HTML-only sites, signs are pointing to “no.”
Despite the rather dull artwork Naruto Wars claims, that doesn’t mean that all anime games have to be. Naruto Ge-mu is the second game on our list. It’s actually quite clean-looking, and up there with more popular text-based games. This game, however, is an actual RPG, that has players doing the ninja thing once again with missions, fighting, gear, and, this time, properties.
Naruto Ge-mu is more traditional in its RPG nature, and thus, significantly easier to jump into. It works almost identically to other games of its ilk with the only really different appeal being the fact that it has a Naruto theme. Beyond this the only other major difference from your standard RPG is a very cool feature that allows you to “enchant” your weapons and armor. By doing so, players will be able to gain stronger versions of the equipment they own (for a nominal fee), but run a 50/50 chance of breaking it in the process.
If there is any one complaint to be had about this game — assuming you’re into RPGs — it is that leveling starts of slowly. There is only one mission to do at the start, and minimal equipment to buy. Even though fans of the show will get a kick out of the familiar missions, there just isn’t much to do early on. However, properties can be bought almost from the get-go, letting you earn some hourly income, but as expected, that doesn’t help the lack of stuff spend it on. Of course, this is likely to change after a few days of playing.
Currently, this game is still fairly young with only about 12,000 monthly active users, so a lot of these discrepancies are more than subject to change. Also, despite slow beginnings, Naruto Ge-mu is still about as fun as any other RPG out there.
In the end, and regardless of which of these games you prefer, both do have their fair share of both positives and negatives. Nevertheless, as with all social games, said negatives are problems that are very much fixable. This, of course, is assuming that the developers are indeed listening to the feedback that their players are sharing. If that is the case, then we can expect the overall Facebook-Naruto experience to go from C-Ranked to A-Ranked. “Believe it.”