What a ridiculous title. Seriously. The full title on the box reads, Shonen Jump Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations. Fortunately, outside of the name (which is clearly trying to compensate for something), the game is surprisingly great. I know I should bury the lead on a video game review to get you to read the whole thing, and you should, but Namco-Bandai and CyberConnect2 did something special here.

I am a casual fan of the Naruto series. Even got my wife to watch it with me for a while. The stories are fantastic, emotional and deep. The fighting is absolutely beautifully animated and the characters are all charming in one way or another. But that is the show, not the digital adaptation. The game, though, is nearly indistinguishable from the actual shows. The previous titles were somewhat hard to follow for the uninitiated, but this time around Naruto brings fans up to speed without any issues.

Naruto seems to have forgotten his weapons... or Zabuza is cheating.

Previous Naruto titles tried to pull off different types of video games in general. Fighting was mixed with light role playing and world exploration/puzzles. The story was told through an almost painful way as you traveled through the world on foot, using jutsu (ninja magic) to solve puzzles. Mini-games were thrown in for good measure, and in the end, it just drained the desire to play.

In contrast, Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations focuses only on the fighting aspects of the series. Story segments are told through a series of animated and static cut scenes. As you start the game, you choose from three separate story lines; The Tale of Young Naruto Uzumaki, The Tale of Sasuke Uchiha, or the Tale of Naruto Uzumaki. Each covers the events of the first few story arcs of Naruto and Shippuden. As you complete each character’s tale, you will be treated to some of the animation from the actual show, and a newly unlocked story. After completing the Young Naruto story I unlocked the tale of Haku and Zabuza.

Ninja. They even fist bump cooler than us.

One issue with this episodic style of play comes from the actual show itself. Many of the battles you participate in were defeats for the player character. If you lose in the game, you have to retry. It is a little jarring to see a fight where a character is supposed to lose, win in the game, then go to a cut scene that depicts your defeat. From a meta perspective I understand the rationale, but as someone invested in the game, it is a bit frustrating. In the past, video games have been successful in executing fights where you are meant to lose, all in service of the narrative. Naruto needed to use that more than any game I can think of.

That minor gripe aside, what most gamers will care most about is the actual fighting system. This isn’t Street Fighter. You won’t be counting frames to ensure you pull off the right moves at the right time. Ninja Storm focuses on fast and furious ninja action. There is actually only one attack button, with the rest covering ranged attacks or attack modifiers. The timing and directional presses during these combos will change up the moves. It sounds simple, and really it is, but movement and positioning is the focus here. Another important aspect to the fighting system is each characters jutsu. These are “magic” attacks that each ninja is capable of using. Sasuke can use Fireball Jutsu, Zabuza uses water and mist, Naruto uses shadow clones, and each ability works in unique ways. With the huge roster of characters numbering over 70, it is pretty amazing how much work went into each of these special attacks. They are huge, stunning and wonderful to behold.

This also brings me to a complaint about the fighting system. Against the computer, at least, you can just charge your chakra (mana) and fire off your ultimate jutsu, then rinse and repeat. The ultimate jutsu attacks land fairly easily and do on average 25 – 40% of a characters life total. After the animation for the attack is over, the opponent will be knocked to the floor and you can usually recharge the required chakra in time to fire another off. It is far from a corner-trap type of cheapness, but it is rough on the receiver.

Hadouken. Err. Rasengaaaaan.

Multiplayer is more or less what you would expect from a fighting game. I experienced no lag post-release for the game. What I did notice is the amazing skills of some of the ninja I battled online. I was lucky to do 50% damage to someone before I lost. Earlier, I mentioned that movement and positioning are key. This is never more true than when fighting expert combatants online.

I spent most of my time in a winner stays / loser pays scenario and was able to watch others battle it out. The show has nothing on these fights. A new camera angle is used when you watch a battle. It wont follow any one ninja for a full game. Instead, it tries to be dynamic and create action movie quality scenes. It works pretty well, making the waiting a gift instead of a punishment. You also gain points to add unique abilities to your ninja card when you play online, or off. These increase the damage from your attacks or can enhance your chakra recovery. The rewards for online play are close to those of games like Modern Warfare 3, if you are a completionist.

I have no words.

Speaking of unlocks, I hope you enjoy them. This game is chock-full of things to earn. Ninja cards, images, titles, special bonuses, movies and art are all on offer. Some are for your viewing pleasure, while others will give you the aforementioned buffs when you fight. I am not sure how much these buffs affect the balance online, but with 70+ unique characters, I was never really expecting perfect balance. Money earned in fights can be used to purchase items you haven’t unlocked, giving you all the more reason to plow through the story and play against AI or human opponents. This cash comes in pretty fast, but with thousands of things to purchase, you won’t be done shopping for quite some time.

In the end, Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations (breath) is a wonderful game. Fan of the series or not, you need to pick this up at some point. Each character’s story is deep, mature, emotional and entertaining. The Naruto anime may have a stigma attached, appearing to be targeted at children, but give it a shot. If you don’t start to feel for these characters, or even get a little misty at times, you are dead inside. Naruto is a truly enjoyable, stunning, heart wrenching title that will give you much to think about during game play and long after you’ve turned off your console for the day.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Tons of characters.
+ Easy to pick up and play fighting system that can obviously be mastered with practice.
+ Fan service is abundant as is a gentle introduction for those unfamiliar with the world.
– Tutorials help, but come too quickly and can be a little confusing at times.
– Online players are really, really, good and destroy me in the face a lot. What a drag.

 

 

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations was developed by CyberConnect2 and published by Bandai-Namco for the PS3(reviewed) and Xbox360. It was released  at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided to RipTen for review.

Follow Chris on Twitter @TheCGravelle for constant updates on video games, Magic: The Gathering, and his daughter, and @RipTen  for the latest news and more.