It is said there are only a few certainties in life; taxes and death. Well by proxy of death there is another, getting old. At age 25 I feel like I was born in a perfect time to enjoying gaming, systems were out and gaming staples were in place by the time I was able to comprehend what a console was and how to use a controller. Technology and genre’s are unlikely to vastly jump from the categories we have now; fighters, platformers, FPS’s are all going to advance but the basic premise is still there.
When I was explaining to my brother I was reviewing this game I had to firstly try to remember it’s inconceivably long name, but also then try to vocalise who or what a Naruto was. “Oh you know, that yellow haired, orange jumpsuit ninja kid that’s on Cartoon Network or something” This was the moment I started to truly feel old. I liked to think I had my finger on the pulse of what fads are out there, I understood the concept of Ben 10 and the latest card games to get banned from schools like Yu-Gi-Oh and the such. Naruto however just seemed to pass me by somewhere along the way. This was cemented when I tried to explain the plot of the cartoon. As such, with this in mind I feel full disclosure is needed for this review to start, I have never seen an episode of Naruto and I’ll be talking about this as a game of it’s own merits.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generation is a fighting game. Although this game is at heart a beat’em up I struggle to refer to it as such due to it’s surprisingly well implemented 3rd person arenas. All the bases of a beat’em ups however are covered in this game, you have your health bar and your stupidly complicated combo system. The basics are easy enough to grapple with, you have an attack button which when tapped provides you with brightly coloured and sometimes quite violent strings of attacks. A throw button which launches ninja stars at your enemy and then finally you get your Chakra button. The Chakra button is easiest to describe by comparing it to any number of other anime titles, the best would be Dragon Ball Z, that inexplicable moment where the black haired tool rages up and flames appear around him turning his hair blonde and roiding him up like he’s a pro-wrestler at a Pay Per View event.
Naruto is a ninja in a village called Hidden Leaf Village, through the course of the game you learn that for some reason a bunch of PVC goths and freaks (including a man called Tobi who seems to have a hole for a face.) are intent on caving in both the houses and Naruto’s head. This game is unforgiving to someone new to the series like me. There are 10 campaigns to work through each with it’s own story lifted from the series. The anime has around 220 episodes and as such there is not only a lot of content but also canon to follow. I started with Naruto’s story, but this lead to it’s own dilemma; apparently there are two age ranges to play as, Naruto and Naruto three years older with a different story. Little things like this without explanation can alienate and discourage old fogies like me but I persisted. It turns out that Naruto lost a friend, I dont mean he died, I mean he literally lost him somewhere. To get his friend back, rather than go look, he decided to go on a jolly to learn how to punch and kick people a bit better and a bit harder than he could before. You then have to work your way through 10 or so fights to try and find the Lord Lucan of the anime world.
All of this leads me onto one of my biggest gripes with this game, I learnt all this opening story from a voice over and some slides. Considering this game is based on a famous anime (to young-uns and the Japanese) I expected there to actually be some anime shown. You get a vague opening clip that doesn’t explain anything and then when you complete a story campaign you are shown flashes but during the actual game you get nothing but slides giving you snippets of cool stuff happening but never following through. It’s essentially like finding out that the worlds tastiest cake has been made but being made to just lick a stamp that has a picture of it. I appreciate the story is complicated and in the case of the older Naruto’s story this does stretch across 90 odd episodes of the anime but to do this kind of teasing is something that even the most shy burlesque dancer would look down on.
Putting my lack of grasp on the story aside this game is fun. I surprise myself by saying that but it truly is. Once you have got the hang of going all flame covered and producing more powerful attacks whilst at the same time running around an open field dodging an onslaught this game does challenge and entertain. I can’t pretend this game is going to have tournaments based around it but it does push forward some good mechanics that we haven’t had in games for a long time.
The open area beat’em up has been tried to an extent with Soul Calibur but essentially that might as well be 2D; game like Battle Arena Toshiden on the Playstation also tinkered with it but never quite mastered the camera. The design of the arenas and the characters is a real strength of this game, with no frame rate issues despite quite busy screens and characters that somehow maintain an anime style without looking like they’re cel-shaded all add to something that is quite a well polished game.
As you progress through the game you will unlock a lot of characters, and I mean a lot. In total this game has around 70 characters and each has it’s own animations and attacks, none from my experience were just pallet swaps. That being said you do have a selection of young and old Naruto plus friends but even then different strengths and weaknesses are apparent.
The real question at this stage is whether I would recommend it to fans of the series as well as fans of fighting games. Overall? I would suggest any fan of the series pick this up, it’s apparent to me as an outsider that this game was made by a team who knew their stuff when it comes to all things Naruto and there was obviously care taken to not damage the franchise like many game companies would given a license like this. As for the beat’em up fans wanting the next big thing, I would suggest taking a pass on this one. The style and content are great great for outsiders but you really feel like you’re missing out on something. Thankfully after playing Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generation I now feel confident in my ability to talk to someone under the age of ten and not resort to just making fart noises or ignoring them.
Novel beat’em up approach
Need to know canon
Stills instead of cutscenes