Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
Naruto’s storming popularity in the west indicates a cultural acceptance, in this case for an art-form once considered by conservative Britain to be harmful and deviant. The Japanese anime series has won over the hearts of animation fans worldwide, with its presence felt in just about every visual product a fan may bare to consume. Naruto has had an overwhelming share of videogame alliterations, with Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations marking the eighth home console appearance of the Ultimate Ninja subtitle. With a further four Ultimate Ninja titles appearing on Sony’s PSP, it’s hard not to question if the series not at risk of saturating the market. The Ultimate Ninja games are primarily beat-em-ups, with extensive unlockable items, characters, cutscenes and artwork that provide satisfying fan service.
Upon loading up the game the player can choose from three campaign characters, with more becoming available as you progress. The focal hook of Naruto Shippuden: UNSG is its unification of characters from both part one and part two of the Naruto canon storyline, thus its subtitle of generations. Due to this inclusion of both Naruto chapters the character roster is far more expansive than that seen in previous Ultimate Ninja titles, with 72 playable characters and a further 15 characters usable as support in battle. These support characters are occasionally unavailable depending on specific battle conditions, however can prove to be vital to victory in some of the more challenging fights.
Naruto Shippuden: UNSG is a visually rich title that faithfully recreates the aesthetic appeal of the Naruto anime, both during gameplay and throughout the many anime cutscenes produced specifically for the game. These scenes are an attempt at adding a stronger narrative focus to the game’s main fighting campaign, which sees each fight briefly parted by interludes of plot. The story may leave some fans a little disappointed, with minor depth given to the multiple scenarios playable. The option to play as both young and older versions of key characters is a nice touch but the fact these brief storylines are written just for the game makes it hard not to feel the whole story aspect has been watered down to suit the beat em’ up genre. Of course, this is mere nitpicking as it’s an admirable attempt at including a potent focus on story in a genre that doesn’t usually accommodate such features. If you’d rather play a straightforward, fluid beat em’ up, the story mode may irk you with the considerable philosophical babble present between fights.
The option to choose the original Japanese voice track is also present, which will surely please those averse to the irritable squeals of protagonist Naruto. Naruto Shippuden: UNSG is rife with fan pleasing content; the quantity of which initially feels overwhelming. One of the unique selling points of UNSG is the expansive opportunities given for player customisation, a feature most appealing for those who collect Naruto trading cards outside of the game itself. By integrating real-world collectibles with the game, the player can enter codes found on Naruto booster packs and in turn attain artwork for the in-game profile cards. If you choose to ignore this feature, it’s unlikely you will miss out on any integral features, however taking advantage of it will likely lead to some exclusive perks for customisation. The game also contains a shopping feature found on the main menu; here the player can buy profile card attributes, moves, artwork and other such oddities. It must be said that to the more casual Naruto fan, or rather those playing the game simply for the joy of the battle system are likely to be completely alienated by the collectible aspect of the game at first. It fails to explain the features of the cards effect on the gameplay itself, rather offering a brief descriptive text upon first entering a new sub-menu. This is confusing and when combined with the numerous items usable in battle, it’s hard for newcomers to know what tactical options are open to them.
The in-game profile cards also appear to play a strong role in the online aspect of the game, using these as an avatar for other gamers to judge your online presence. The online appears to suffer from lag issues at time of publication, with the few fights partaken in offering sluggish response times and some frustratingly odd character negligence. The lobby itself is easily navigated, if a little dated; particular niggles within attempts at joining an unranked fight. Upon getting into a lobby of potential opponents, there does not appear to be a clear indication whom is immediately joinable in battle and if the player is to click a busy opponent, you are taken back to the main lobby menu. This is a little annoying, seeing as you then have to wait for the server to search for opponents again instead of keeping the current log.
The option to share your battle data online is an excellent touch, offering players a chance to witness other players finest moments. This is not dissimilar to the option in the collection screen, which lets the player see visual demonstrations of each character's special moves. These make for brief entertaining viewing and offer the player an incentive to customise their character in order to attain such moves. The gameplay itself in battle is fluid and responsive, with circle acting as the main attack button and the left analogue stick allowing different variations of close quarters attack with the respective button. Square allows the player to launch shuriken at their opponent, both close quarter and long distance attacks are especially effective when doubled up with the triangle button for a power boost. In game items are mapped to the d-pad, allowing quick usage in times of need.
The story mode for a singular character can be beaten in around an hour, even less if you are particularly adept at the game. However, free battle and online should keep players coming back for their money’s worth. As a whole, Naruto: UNSG is a beautifully realised title, with its presentation no doubt sticking out as its finest asset. Everything from the anime cut-scenes to the in game main menu displays a respect for the series much adorned visual style. To emphasise this, it’s quite easy to spend time hopelessly entertained by just simply flicking through the main menu options as Naruto leaps around the screen. UNSG is a refreshingly refined fighter and one which will make you want to learn more about the series in order to get the most from the game. For die-hard fans though, this is going to blow minds and will no doubt be a favourite for some time to come.