Though I've not watched much Naruto past the first season, I've always had a soft spot for the loud-mouthed blonde ninja, and the first Naruto game on the PSP (Ultimate Ninja Heroes) was a firm favourite.
Whereas the first 2 Ultimate games were side-on brawlers, Akatsuki Rising opts for a fully 3D approach using a slightly simplified cel-shaded approach. This simplification allows the PSP to handle the engine smoothly, and despite some odd looking mouth animation, works pretty well.
The controls are simple enough - Jump, dodge, attack and use item are all mapped to a single button each, while the L button locks onto targets. The vast array of upgrades available to collect or purchase make this setup easy to master and fun to upgrade.
There are a few issues with the controls - tapping any button at the point an enemy hits you automatically triggers a defensive countermeasure (in Naruto's case he swaps his position with a wooden stump). The problem is that this takes control away from the player and opens up a world of button mashing. This is highly unfortunate as it takes a lot away from the combat, which is the main focus of the game itself.
Akatsuki Rising is a free-roaming affair, allowing you to take on challenges, such as defeating raiding bandits, to earn your upgrade coins. There's plenty of variety in the challenge type, but they all amount to scrapping, so it's not quite as varied as it might first appear.
The graphics are capable enough - as mentioned, they are quite simplified in order to allow the PSP to run it smoothly, but backgrounds are a little flat and uninspired. For the most part, the game runs very smoothly, and that's what counts.
Sound is excellent, with the series soundtrack used to full effect, and the original English vocal talent providing the voices.
However, what shouldn't be underestimated is that Namco Bandai have managed to compress the entire Shippuden world into the palm of your hand, and Naruto fans should be happy with the familiar characters, setting and general feel of the game, and are more likely to overlook the flaws in the mechanics.
Overall, this is probably a game which best serves Naruto fans, but then we already knew that. It's not the best brawler on the system by any means, but it's a competent, fun game that should appeal to the knuckle-headed ninja faithful. For others, knock a point off the score and decide if you want to give it a go.