Naruto fans are rather obsessive types. I can't walk five paces in any given anime convention without an adolescent passing me by in a long black cloak and little plastic headbands. Seeing that sort of fanaticism kind of turns me off wanting to watch the Japanese cartoon (or read the original manga books) myself. Maybe it's me being an old fogey.
When I was handed the office copy of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
however, there was no getting around it – I had to delve into Masashi Kishimoto's world of superhuman ninjas and Nine Tailed Demon Foxes. Turns out the story is pretty damn good, actually. Maybe a little overhyped in proportion to all the cosplayers, but still an entertaining and thought-provoking series.
Even so, you don't need to be a Naruto
expert to understand what's going on in the story, as the single-player Adventure mode works as an interactive adaptation of the manga's Shippuden
universe. You quickly learn from the opening cutscene that the titular hero is a fiesty ninja-in-training who hopes to one day become the Hokage (leader) of his home, the Hidden Leaf Village. But a criminal organisation known as the Akatsuki has plans to destroy that village, using the power of legendary creatures to create forbidden spells – or ninjutsu.
The kicker here is that the capture of Naruto is part of the Akatsuki's plan, for he has within him one of those destructive beasts, the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox. His friend, Gaara, also has a powerful monster locked inside of him, and so the organisation targets him first. Thus begins a journey that sees Naruto torn apart by betrayal, rejection and all sorts.
Although Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
is wrapped with a rather inoffensive third-person adventure, the game's core is in, as always, its beat'em up mechanics. The controls overwhelm at first – and understanding isn't helped by the fact that loading screens contain 30-odd pages of battle tips – but after a few matches you get used to the basics.
Fights are set in in big, empty 3D arenas, and unlike most brawlers there's no constant opponent-facing or clunky sidestepping in and out of the screen. Control of your character is as fluid as you would expect from an action-adventure game, but when you start to attack the camera can dynamically pan to a side-on view. Your abilities include jumping, attacking, chucking throwing weapons and initiating 'chakra,' which is sort of like a magical aura that allows ninja to perform ninjutsu.
A chakra gauge allows you to perform a select number of these ninjutsu special moves in a row – once its depleted, you can recharge it over time or by holding the button down. Engaging your chakra in the middle of a button-bashing combo can lead to a rather impressive finisher, while tapping another button immediately after you channel chakra enhances your basic abilities. Your character zooms straight towards the opponent if used with the jump button, a devastating move will be performed if used with the attack button and a more impressive throwing weapon can be used too.
Players have two health bars, and as with most fighting games, once that is depleted it's a K.O. Now, with the basic moves on their own Naruto
doesn't really offer anything more than a brief, if enjoyable, distraction. But there are other factors at play – the triggers allow you to block enemy attacks, and can result in a complete evade if pressed at the right time. Battle items can be used to aid yourself or hinder opponents. Support characters can be used to add a strategic edge in battle, and your chakra can be charged so that pressing the button twice followed by an attack performs an Ultimate Ninjutsu, which knocks off a huge chunk of health.
After several matches, you start to realise that this game has another layer beneath the quick, button-bashing exterior. Even with the relatively short and basic command list for each character, there's a lot to consider when it comes to the speed of your ninja, and their proficiency in various ranges of combat.