License-based games have a tendency of being a little bit on the crap side. The Naruto series has never really had that problem though - largely thanks to Namco Bandai’s IP savvy and Japanese developer CyberConnect2’s impressive coding and design competence. And the philosophy behind this year’s release - Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations - appears to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
You might remember that I reviewed Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
some time ago - the gameplay mechanics, presentation and even menus are largely unchanged since this last iteration, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s the exact same game. Some improvements have been made, along with some removal of features to boot.
A whole new story sets up some rather interesting scenarios - you get to play as both young Naruto
characters from the classic manga and pair them up with their older counterparts from the Shippuden
canon. As a result, there are over 70 characters to take control of here - an excruciatingly high number, but each feels different from the last.
You might wonder how the hell that can possibly be true, without complicating the controls to some insane degree. Well, battles in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations
are executed in a slightly different fashion to your Street Fighter
and Mortal Kombat
matches. Rather than assigning different commands for each character, you have a control scheme that is pretty much fixed irrespective of your choice of battler.
Working in a similar fashion to Final Fantasy Dissidia
or perhaps Power Stone
, players have fluid control their combatant and can make them dart about in any direction they like in an open 3D environment. It’s almost like playing a platforming game, with face buttons assigned to basic moves and abilities. Pressing the A button jumps, but a double-tap executes a dash towards your foe. With just one button for attacking and one button for chucking shurikens, it all seems really basic.
But then you have chakra.
Chakra is, simply put, the essence of each fighter that allows them to pull off some devastating special moves. Pressing the chakra button in conjunction with any of the other face buttons will enhance your abilities. It is when using chakra and the attack button that you get to see the real distinction between the 70-odd characters - each special attack has a different timing, rhythm, and windows for evasion and counterattack.
And they’re pulled off with an incredible presentation and flair that has been something of a signature of CyberConnect2 and the Ultimate Ninja Storm
games. The colourful cel-shaded art style is simply gorgeous to look at, and the environments and character animations add a huge amount of character.
While the delicious presentation has been left well alone, a lot of changes have been made to the game’s Story mode. Gone are the exploration segments from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2,
in favour of something that resembles a classic arcade setup, with a string of battles broken up by non-interactive cutscenes. I’m torn at this change - the rather cumbersome sidequests in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
weren’t exactly inspired, but the casual exploring inbetween fights was a great way to immerse yourself fully in Naruto’s world. I miss it.
There are other refinements that are a little more palatable. The ability to perform the substitution technique - which allows players to teleport behind their foes and is pretty much a replacement for a standard block/guard - is now no longer tied to the chakra gauge, but instead its own. This adds a little more depth to the proceedings and avoids brawls from becoming a simple ‘punch - sub - punch - sub’ affair. A new ‘Awakening’ mode kicks in when you’re on your last slither of health, giving you one last chance to even the odds.
The online experience has been improved too, with no noticeable lag at all and the ability to spectate matches and save replays of your best performances. You can also download the best saved matches from other players, but there’s no real discernible way to filter through these at the moment. Maybe in a patch, eh?
The majority of these tweaks makes Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations
feel like a blast to play. And it’s a title that’s highly recommended for fans of the manga and anime franchise. For gamers who are curious about getting into an accessible fighter, this is a good starting place - but there’s nothing here that you wouldn’t gain from playing the last Ultimate Ninja Storm
Vibrant art style with fluid animation and engaging sequences
Accessible combat system with great payoffs in special move cinematics
A joy to play online
Stripped down story mode
No major new modes
Younger characters more of a novelty
SPOnG Score: 7/10