Warning: This article contains references to the anime and assumes knowledge. If you don’t like this, sod off elsewhere.
I’ve never been overly keep on fighting games as they tend to rely on remembering a series of obscure button combos. To pull off the Dragon Fire Fist Death Kill press Down, Back, Kick, Punch, Punch, Forward. What? It is all very abstract. They traditionally require learned knowledge for the player to become skilled. There’s no, or little knowledge in the game world or means of “picking it up as you go”. My memory isn’t the best so these games don’t suit me. I don’t enjoy games where remembering certain combos is the key to winning.
When I first found the demo Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm I was a little unsure whether I’d like it as it was a fighting game. However I was curious how the series would translate into a game in the Western market. I was very surprised by what I experienced, pleasantly surprised that is.
The controls are very simplistic and apply to all characters. You have your kick, jump, long range attack, guard and so on as per usual and more powerful moves involve pressing the chakra button. Then if your chakra is high enough, a three button combo can be used to perform the character’s “ultimate move”. It is rather simplistic but you know what, it works. When I get a new character, how do I pull off the bad ass move? Ah yeah, same as before. Of course there are variations for each character. Some have more speedy close range moves and some are slower but more powerful, but in essence the controls are the same. This allows for a lot more “pick up and play”.
Usually when I have a few folk round and we stick on a fighting game, someone learns a move that seems to work and sticks to it. The fights rarely hit the epicness of skilled players fighting. However with Naruto UNS, this is rather different. Everyone can pick up the controls and you can get some pretty cool fights on the go. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win!
Ah yeah, the fights. With the cell shading the fights are visually excellent as well as really feeling like the anime itself. In full flow it is a joy to watch! This is especially the case with two skilled players. Whilst the basic controls do allow for “pick up and play” gameplay, learning the ins and outs of characters, timing and general good style does provide an advantage. An experienced player may still trounce a newbie, but least a bunch of nubs won’t produce stale fights!
As well as multiplayer, there’s quite an impressive single player game. You have a story mode, following the tale of the mange (although certain things are changed to for the sake of fights). This mode doesn’t just limit you to playing as Naruto, all key fights are re-enacted so you can play Hinata up against Neji in the Chunin exams or Rock Lee versus Kinimaro/ Unfortunately I think the difficulty arc hits a bit of a snag. As there are slight nuances between the characters sometimes you might find yourself with a character that you aren’t familiar with up against an opponent that is tougher than the previous fight. Throw in some challenging end conditions (win with a throw) and it can be a little infuriating.
The best part of the story mode is probably the giant fights. Taking on Shukaku (one tailed beast) involved a fairly simple battle but then uses cut scenes requiring button pressing. As Shukaku reaches for you, a cue is given to press right. Time it right, you dodge him. Fail and you get hit and have to repeat it. Then a few button presses / combos later and you’ve completed the fight. It isn’t particularly challenging (unless you don’t know your controller!) but it looks absolutely splendid. The controls and actions don’t feel abstract and you are involved in “creating” an exciting scene in the game.
Well I’ve rambled on a bit now and not even touched a huge part of the game. I was rather stunned by the open world present in the game. As well as creating a rather decent fighting game, there’s an environment for you to explore with plenty of missions. Items are won from missions (story fights are one type of missions) and they can be traded for other goodies around the world. There’s a few other things like collecting scrolls, finding items and what not, as well as providing a source for additional missions.
Taking a side step from the standard missions, you can complete races, fights as well as hide and seek with Konohamaru. It works pretty well and whilst they aren’t quite as exciting as the main fights, they do provide a lot of things to do and ways to earn experience and rewards. Some are pretty poorly done to be honest but provides a real sense of value with this content as well as diversity.
One final thing that I liked about the open world environment was how the controls were communicated. Rather than relying on you to remember, everything is displayed to you. After a few months away from the game, chances are you won’t remember but rather than the annoying awkward stage of muddling it along until you remember, it displays them. They aren’t in the way and don’t have a negative impact on proceedings as some messaging has. Instead they provide simple, handy reminders, something that is all too often forgotten or neglected.
Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm truly is a remarkable game for one that would have sold purely on the license itself. Rather than just creating a basic sub par fighting game, you have a title with lush action, well thought out controls making it great for when a few people are over and also a solid open world environment to potter about in.
Completion: Missions ~85%, Open World ~50%
ps, yeah I did use photos instead of screenshots. Meh.