Note: This review was written based on Playstation 3 gameplay with material provided by Namco Bandai. The game is also available on the XBOX 360.
Naruto is one of those iconic anime shows that even people who don’t like anime know about. The video games were sure-to-follow, and they did in the mid-2000’s. The Ninja Storm series has evolved from a 3D fighting game with exploration elements to a story-driven game with more characters and a unique online fighting system.
In the beginning the combat was overwhelming, though not because of the complex battle system. In fact, it was quite the opposite. You only have one main attack button (Circle on the PS3), which is off-putting if you are used to having half a dozen different buttons corresponding to different things. Let me assure you, there are other buttons and the combat system is much deeper than a “one-button” game, but this simplistic method allows the game to be accessible to people outside of the fighting-genre crowd and Naruto fans. Once this small hurdle is overcome, learning the rest of the combat mechanics falls right into place. It becomes a timing battle of hitting L2 to “ninja vanish” and reappear behind your opponent. A bar limits how frequently you can do this, so strategy becomes based around timing this maneuver.
A chakra meter also enhances attacks and allows you to do various Jutsu moves. Each character has an “Ultimate Jutsu Combo” as well and the simple manner of pulling these devastating (and often-times match-saving) moves off is a satisfying experience. A cool aspect, and even more so a match-saver at times, is the inclusion of Awakening mode. When you drop below 50% health and fill your chakra meter, you can transform into an impressive alternative form which only lasts a limited amount of time.
This cast is comprised of the same actors from the past two games, so you will see plenty of faces (72 to be exact, though some of them are clones of each other with subtle differences), and they span the whole series so you will get to see the various characters at different ages. All of the characters have different tactics to master, but none seemed to be overpowered.
While in Story mode, you will progress through stories catering to an individual and it will be from their perspective. The developers CyberConnect2 opted to remove the exploration elements from the previous game to make a much more streamlined experience. The opening to each story will inevitably lead you to a battle, which is then followed with another narrated cut-scene. Rinse and repeat, and you have the story formula.
The scenes that set each battle into place are not fully-animated, but they are authentically voiced by the original cast. After you complete a story you are treated to a beautiful animated sequence putting the whole story into perspective and wrapping it up. Only a small handful of characters get their own story, but completionists will unlock more stories as they proceed.
In addition to story mode, there are bracket tournaments, quick matches and a survival mode. The tournaments feature themes and victory will unlock more challenging ones. A tournament named “Hidden Leaf” will have relevant characters from Hidden Leaf village. When you win you are awarded Ryo (the in-game currency), and any possible number of prizes. This goes for any mode, including online modes and the Story mode. You can unlock a variety of customization items for your Player Card and the higher the difficulty the better the prizes.
Survival mode is battling a succession of opponents with one health bar. The twist in Naruto is that you regain some health based on your performance. So ending a match quick and in-style will benefit you more than just spamming the same combo.
The online mode centers around your player card. Throughout your fighting career (online and offline) you will unlock card images and titles. Titles are just for looks but images figure into one of the battle modes online. Custom battles offer you the ability to customize both the fight and utilize these card effects, which can give you a boost in battle. The unique part about this feature is that you can buy Naruto cards and input a number in the top right corner, unlocking that card in the game.
While the premise is amusing, I had more problems with online battling than what it was worth. Over half of the matches had a bad connection. Finding a lobby was easy and there were plenty of people playing, but I experienced too much lag. Quitting laggy matches without powered down was impossible.The matches that were lag-free, though, ran smooth. And you can trade player cards after a match.
When you browse over a shelf stocked with the latest fighting games, don’t overlook that one based on a popular anime franchise just because you are not a franchise fan. It offers fast-paced combat, beautiful and colorful visuals, and a story mode that comes second only to the last Mortal Kombat.
- Easy yet deep combat system
- A strong story mode, which is rare in fighting games
- Diverse roster of characters
- A must-have for Naruto fans
- Online had some lag issues
- No “quit match” while playing online
- Hard (but not impossible) to sell to a non-Naruto fan