The annualised mouthful that is Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm is back, with new anime material and a bevy of new fighting tactics. Get ready for Rasengans, Chidori blasts and Harem no Jutsu!
Confused? The Ultimate Ninja series is hard to follow if you have no background with Naruto or Naruto Shippuden, two manga series adapted into anime. What this means, of course, is that the market for this game, unless people care nothing about the story and references flying over their heads, is pretty dependent on that niche. If you are a fan of the manga 0r anime, you are in for a treat with team-based finishing moves from characters with connections in the series, as well as a massive Ninja World Tournament, which bends time and canon to allow your favourite villains and heroes fight alongside each other, or you could recreate big battles from the canon. I know I need to kick Orichimaru a few more times before I feel satisfied.
With 50 minutes of brand new anime footage made specially for the game, players get to learn more about the origins of the Akatsuki – a mysterious and powerful group of outcast and banished ninjas. Another story adds depth to the character of Itachi Uchiha, by showing what happened to Shisui Uchiha and how Itachi not only grew in power, but started fostering a deep hatred for his clan members and village. The final extra story section details Kushina Uzumaki, Naruto’s mother and her hopes and dreams for one day if she ever has a child. It is a heart-warming, or tear-inducing scene if you are familiar with the source material. These bits of story segue between various battle sequences, which result in character unlocks for the roster. This also earns you cash for buying items to be used in the Ninja World Tournament, which could be the difference between success and bitter defeat. Eating food before a fight boosts stats and the regen rate of your chakra, which might be what you need to beat that difficult fight.
The only thing larger than this game’s awkwardly long title is its roster. With 118 playable characters, there is a good chance that your favourite character from the series is available for you to run around with and use in Ninja Tournament mode. Sadly with such a large roster, most characters tend to use the exact same button presses to perform special and ultra moves, as well as the standard combo strings. While this makes it easier to pick any character and head into the arena (which is a necessity thanks to the block structure of the fights), a lot of attention has to be paid to the fighting system’s finer points if you want to excel. With counter-attacks, substitution jutsu dodges, chakra cancels, calling support to either block or attack and sealing an opponent all have to be worked out and used on top of combos, juggles, air attacks and jutsu cancels. Learning all of this, while determining which of the three styles you want to use (Ultimate, Drive and Awakening) to complement your playstyle, takes what looks like a simple, repetitive system and makes it a fast-paced, tactical affair with a fair modicum of depth.
This latest instalment in the Ultimate Ninja Storm is aimed at two groups: fans of the Naruto and Naruto Shippuden anime and manga series, and returning veterans of the games. With its massive roster, frenetic four-way free for alls, anime references and extra animated story, it is no surprise. Newcomers beware, as the game will be downright confusing and bizarre without any previous knowledge of Naruto. However, you just might find the crazy pace and flashy ultra moves makes you want to watch Naruto. I know I want to go watch Naruto from the beginning again.