CyberConnect2 has always tried to make their Naruto fighting games more than just fighting games. It started with Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 which introduced a pseudo RPG mode with mini-games and fights as keys to unlock characters and abilities. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm expands on this foundation with a substantial single player mission mode that takes players from the start of the series up all the way up to the Rescue Sasuke Arc. However, you spend a good chunk of the single player mode playing mini-games.
CyberConnect2 must be really proud of their tree climbing mini-game. While tree climbing was a memorable part in the first arc of the anime we’ve seen the same tree game in Namco Bandai’s PS2 and PSP Naruto games. Sure, Naruto does nifty flips now and the tree is in full 3D, but these are minor changes. The goal is still the same grab the power ups and dodge the branches. This isn’t the only tree related mini-game in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm. You also have tree jumping where you try to grab power-ups and avoid branches while flying in the sky. Both of these mini-games aren’t too bad compared to searching for Konohamaru. This is just a pointless fetch quest which forces you to talk to NPCs and wander around the village. These mini-games wouldn’t be a problem if you weren’t coerced into playing them. You can jump right into fighting, but Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm has around half of the playable characters in the roster at the start. Some key characters like Kakashi and Gaara are missing too. If you want to unlock all of the playable characters and ougis expect to spend more hours than you want to playing mini-games. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm has some ridiculous S-rank missions too that are more like Xbox 360 achievements. One “mission” requires players to play the game a certain number of hours and another wants destroy 1,000 breakable objects. According to Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm you can be a top tier ninja just by smashing things in the village.
The story mode isn’t all bad. There are few awesome fights where Naruto is up against a giant like Shukaku. This fight uses the regular player vs. player fighting engine so you use single button attacks and throwing items to whittle down a life bar of Gaara’s inner beast. However, Namco Bandai made the Shukaku fight exciting by adding quick time events that mimic scenes from the anime. The legendary Sannin battle between Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru handles a bit differently. It starts out with players controlling Tsunade and punching boulders on the ground towards Manda, Orochimaru’s giant snake. When Manda drops to the ground you can chakra dash forward and rush Orochimaru. Giant fights are great, but there aren’t many of them.
Standard fights are player versus player or player vs. CPU. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm sticks to the same fighting system from the other Naruto games which makes it feel like a 2D fighter trapped in a 3D world. Stages are fully in 3D, you run in 3D, but most of the attacks are linear. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm only has one attack button so the control system from the start isn’t designed to distinguish horizontal and vertical strikes. This wouldn’t be an issue if the stages were small, but the stages in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja are large. Some players opt to just dash forward by using the chakra powered dash to close distance. This leave dashers open for an “easy” combo, but since the substitution jutsu is so easy to pull off the tables can turn back on the side of the dasher.
Other times I ended up playing an elaborate game of tag zig-zagging towards defensive players that try to chip life away by throwing kunai. Like the other Naruto: Ultimate Ninja games the key to winning quickly is charging up your chakra and using a signature move. Hit an enemy with one of these and you enter a button pressing battle. If the attacker wins a gorgeous movie is played such as Naruto lunging forward with a Nine Tailed powered Rasengan. However, Namco Bandai doused the efficacy of the super moves by limiting chakra. You can’t run around the battlefield destroying objects in hopes of finding chakra recovery items. The breakable crates/barrels/training dummies are gone. You come in to battles equipped with items and that’s all you get. You also come into battle with partners. CyberConnect2 introduced permanent partner characters into their Naruto series with Naruto Shippuuden: Narultimate Ninja Accel 2 and in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm you get two of them. Each partner character has a time limit which prevents players from constantly calling Sasuke to spray the screen with fireballs.
There number of partner characters outweighs the number of playable characters in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm since Namco Bandai is giving out free characters as downloadable content every few weeks. That’s good fan service and Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm oozes with fan service. CyberConnect2 did a fantastic job of recreating the feel of the fights in the Naruto anime into a PlayStation 3 game. The Japanese voices are in here as an option so fans can choose their language track. Now if Namco Bandai just added more characters and online play for the next PS3 Naruto game…
Images courtesy of Namco Bandai.