Developed by CyberConnect2 and published by Bandai Namco, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja STORM Revolution, which rabid dogs couldn’t keep me from simply referring to as “Naruto” or “this/the game” from this point onwards, is a fighting game that is most appropriately compared to the Dragon Ball Z series than it is to, say, Namco’s own Tekken franchise. On it’s surface, and in many ways, it is a fantastic little game, however it hobbles itself somewhere along the way.
This is the first Naruto game I’ve played, so my point of reference to its past is considerably limited by that, but if the Dragon Ball Z games are anything to go by, and from what I can tell they are, the additions this game introduces are minimal to most, but extremely welcome amongst the games followers. Also, not being an existing fan of the TV/Manga series hinders me somewhat as, while the game offers an incredibly epic selection of characters to pick from, I had no idea what was so special about any of them. Resulting in my decision as to who I chose as my avatar to be largely decided upon by the name of the game. That is Naruto and his many variants: Naruto, Naruto on fire, Mecha-Naruto, Tired and encumbered Naruto, etc.
There are four game modes and they are: Ninja World Tournament, which serves as the main story mode; Online Battle, which it’s fairly self explanatory; Ninja Escapades, which drops you into a thirty to forty minute long story segment of, what I can only assume is, moments throughout the franchises expansive history. You’ll enjoy some brilliantly brought to life cinematics before being put in a fight relevant to what you’ve just seen. And lastly, Free Battle, which I personally would have been very upset had it not been included… but we’ll get to that later. Across all of these game modes there is a shared inventory and bank. Money made and items purchased will be available wherever you are and whichever Ninja you embody. The reason being that items play a role in combat. While fighting you have an item palette allocated to the directional buttons that you can kit out with the things you need or want during a fight, such as a quick guard breaking attack, temporary status ailment or a potion of some sort.
You see, the Ninja World Tournament, being the main part of the game, is a bitter pill to swallow. Naturally, if the show is often about who is the best and people fighting over that fact, then naturally a tournament is a good way to go. My problem with it is that it’s not quite that. One of my first experiences after arriving on Ninja Tournament Island was some kind of Naruto trivia event to get people to join my team so that I would be able to participate in the tournament… and I don’t know Naruto… so you can see my problem. For the record, if anybody wants to say “You could have just bought the book from the shop and had all the questions answered” my response is “Ahh, a fetch quest. Much more fun!” This was the first in a long list of things I had a grievance with. After playing through what I had initially thought was an incredibly brief Ninja Tournament – before discovering that finishing the tournament just means you go back to the main menu, being given the option to change character and continue from the next tier – I discovered I had unlocked the Mecha-Naruto storyline. Here’s where things, for a moment, got interesting. The Mecha-Naruto story actually plays out like a story. Naruto and Hinata discover the wreckage of some odd thing (that nobody seems to be able to identify is a robot designed to look like Naruto) and from that a story of betrayal, identity and friendship unravels. This would have been a lot more enjoyable had I not been sent to the job centre halfway through to deliver noodles all over a town to help a scientist do their adding and subtraction. Did I mention this is a fighting game?
I’m probably coming across a lot more bitter than I am intended right now. I don’t dislike the game, I just think there’s a lot that is keeping you from actually fighting. Twenty minutes of awful and laboured dialogue followed by twenty seconds of combat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe this is in keeping with the show? While Ninja Tournament Mode fronts like it’s the main game, I can only figure that the true main mode can be found in free battle. Here it’s just a matter of enjoying the awesome combat system and the many spectacles that come with it in a variety of different, but instantly gratifying, scenarios against the computer or with friends. Survival, Vs, No-Nonsense Tournament, Practice and the like.
So combat… Here’s where the game, naturally, shines. It’s a game about Ninjas after all, nobody cares what reading groups Kratos is in, right? Calling the selection of characters broad would be a massive understatement, and to say the same about fighting styles would be equally so. Every character, and even the alternate variations of the same characters – Naruto is not the only one to get multiple versions of himself – are all bringing something different to the table. A complaint I initially had was the unninja-riness of these Ninjas, then when I saw how utterly unique each individual is, I put the complaint aside. You have your standard combat oriented Ninja, elemental magic type Ninja and even puppet wielding Ninja! Some of which require the control of not only the person pulling the strings, but TWO lifesize puppets that take care of the offensive/defensive aspects of fighting.
As if all that variety wasn’t enough, prior to each fight you’re requested to pick from three battle types, those being Ultimate Jutsu Type (giving the player and their support characters extremely powerful – and visually epic – finishing moves); Awakening Type (which offers the ability to transform into an even more powerful version of yourself… and then a much more powerful version beyond that); or Drive (which is primarily automatic contribution from your support characters at a number of different levels). Part of me wants to say the combat system is simple, but for the uninitiated the above text would have overwhelmed me, and I haven’t even said what the punch button is yet! No, it’s not a simple combat system. It’s the button layout that’s simple. While this is a fighting game it’s pretty far removed from the likes of Street Fighter as the attacks all centre around one button. It’s what you do with that button that matters. Are you running? Did you tap charge first? Are you holding it down? If so how many times did you tap it before doing so? And so on.
In a one-on-one situation, the camera is over your shoulder, locked on your opponent, and you have complete free reign of the combat ring. Your support characters, should you have any, are off screen and are there at a moments notice (and a flick of one of the shoulder buttons), and the fight is over when your opponent runs out of life or the clock runs out of time. However, in a group fight things are a little different. Support characters are not a part of it, though battle types are, and there are four combatants in the ring. The camera, still over your shoulder, is to be locked manually or left to just hang on your own positioning (not recommended!). The fight is not a question of who is knocked out here, rather who possesses the most orbs. At the beginning of each group fight, each character possesses one thousand orbs and aim is to, within the time limit, beat the snot out of each other and gather the most orbs.
Myself and fellow team member Matt, managed to get a couple of hours engaging in the online multiplayer and, while the gameplay takes some getting used to, I have to confess to the fact that he held his own all things considered [having not even looked at the buttons and going straight into an online fight with Cev, I’ll take that as a compliment – Matt]. There appears to be a lot on display that I may have otherwise overlooked had I not had someone to share the online experience with. Persistent ranking, a plethora of modes and variables to make the experience all the more fruitful quickly aided in my coming to the realisation that it is here, in the multiplayer, that I imagine long term fans and value for money is to be found.
I can honestly say that, despite some of the complaints I have with the game, when it does what it’s there to do, it does it incredibly well. The combat is fun, twitchy, dizzying and truly a sight to behold. The Ninja Escapades do tell a story extremely well, leaving travel and such to the cutscenes so you don’t have to run around enduring mandatory RPG small talk. If only the same could be said about Ninja World Tournament.
A review copy of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja STORM Revolution for PlayStation 3 was provided by Bandai Namco Games UK PR team for the purposes of this review. The game is available now on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at all good retailers, and also on Steam.