There are two kinds of players who are going to get the most out of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 – Naruto fans and kids under the age of 12. It does offer a satisfying challenge for the fighting segments, which gradually gets more difficult as one progresses, and a good job of portraying events in the Naruto Shippuden storyline.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 has is a robust storyline in the Master Road story mode. Namco Bandai also added a Sasuke storyline and also has an original story part as well. If you don’t know what Chidori means, the Akatsuki are on the move and capturing jinchuriki (people who have tailed beasts sealed inside them) so they can take their power. The game begins after the first Naruto series with Naruto returning to Konoha after training with Jiraya. His first mission is heading out with Kakashi and Sakura to assist Gaara, who has been captured by Akatsuki.
Master Road retells events via a series of static headshots and anime screen captures. You’ll hear the characters talk, with full English or Japanese voice acting, then it’ll occasionally cut to an image from the appropriate anime episode before returning to the headshots. Some animated segments would have been nice, but the method Namco Bandai went with works well – especially since the game covers so much of what happens in Naruto Shippuden. The game goes up to the point where Pain is introduced.
Missions in the Master Road story mode section are split up into platformer levels and battles. Platformer missions have players make their way through a 2.5D, side-scrolling level within a certain amount of time.
The problem with the side-scrolling, platformer segments of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 is that they’re so similar. There simply isn’t enough variation among the stages. You’ll usually be fighting in the same area for multiple chapters/episodes. The NP symbols that can give you extra Ninja Points (NP) are almost always in the same spots, and the same can typically be said for the enemies too.
Also, unless the stage has a clear goal like "Defeat 5 enemies" or "Smash 5 objects," you’re essentially running to a goal before the timer on top runs out. You can try to boost your score and earned NP by taking out enemies on your mad dash, but it doesn’t make enough of a difference to warrant the effort. Your best bet is to find a story segment with a relatively easy task (like the aforementioned "Smash 5 objects") that gives an adequate NP reward (2,000 or better) and replay it fifteen or twenty times to build a nice stockpile to get you through unlocking.
The battle missions are one round fighting matches. If you’re playing alone then it’s typically you against one or two adversaries. For the most part, the goal will be to knock your other opponent out, but sometimes a mission will have an extra task, like "Don’t let allies drop out," "Get a 20-hit combo" or "Finish with a jutsu." As long as you frantically button-mash and keep the pressure on, you should be fine.
Both modes are littered with random power-ups. If you break barrels or boxes in the platformer levels, or take down wooden dummies in the course of a battle, an item will appear that will often boost your character’s abilities. If you’re smart about collecting them in the platformer mode, you can usually avoid wasting NP on beneficial "Tactics" for your characters before each match.
Before taking on a mission square in Master Road episodes, players can choose to enter the Tactics menu to give your character, or characters, a little extra help. Tactics can boost stats like strength, speed, and jump height. I preferred to go with the tactic that boosted everything, even though it was more pricy. Generally, these are best saved for battles – especially if you’re playing alone. By the fourth chapter, some of your opponents can get pretty tough and you can end up facing two or three powerful adversaries.
The controls are a button-masher’s dream come true. You attack with O, jump with X, use an item with square, trigger and prepare special items, jutsus and ultimate jutsus with triangle, guard with R and trigger a transformation with L. The only thing that annoyed me was that the directional buttons were used for moving. My thumb kept hovering over the analog stick, and multiple times I found myself moving that and wondering, "Why isn’t Naruto running?" You get used to it, but it feels awkward. Aside from that, it’s all fairly simple and unleashing special moves is easy to remember. If you do forget, the pause menu has a section to remind you.
Graphically, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 should look similar to the other Ultimate Ninja Heroes games. The characters are presented in cel-shaded 3-D and look decent enough, provided the game doesn’t zoom in too close. Jumbo Choji looks frightful, however. The backgrounds look a bit better, and more realistic, but unfortunately you don’t get to really interact with them. In the platformer segments, you’re just running through, with the exception of the 3-D, swinging log trap found in some levels that can ram into you. The fighting sections are slightly better, as you can jump back and forth from the foreground to the background and vice versa, but otherwise it’s about the same.
The game also has quite a few game modes to keep you busy, though one is multiplayer-exclusive. You can go through the story in Master Road, engage in regular battles with up to four players in Free Battle (single player) and Wireless Battle (multiplayer). There’s also a practice mode to help you adjust to the controls and moves, though that really isn’t necessary. The final area is the Tree of Mettle, where you can see your multiplayer battle record, check the wallpapers you’ve collected by playing or enter passwords to get extra wallpapers or jutsus.
The one thing which helps make Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 stand out are the various local multiplayer options. Aside from the standard versus mode always available in any Naruto fighting game, there’s a cooperative multiplayer available for the Master Road story mode.
The best word to describe Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 is “adequate”. It isn’t that Namco Bandai’s latest attempt to cash in on the series’ fame isn’t good. (It has its moments.) Or that it’s particularly bad. (Repetitive and a button masher, definitely.) It just isn’t as striking as some of the other Naruto games out there, despite it’s large character roster and ample multiplayer opportunities.
Food for Thought
- Tenten is awesome for long combos. You can easily string together at least a 15-hit combo without even trying.
- If there were ever a PSP game that needed one UMD multiplayer, this is it.
- Due to the storyline and simple controls, it feels like a good fit for a younger gamer or someone just getting into fighting games.
- The 48+ character roster is awesome.
- I liked how you could launch combo-jutsus with certain character combinations, and it was pretty easy to do.