There’s a storm coming…
The Ultimate Ninja series has a surprisingly long pedigree. Greeting gamers on the PlayStation 2 in 2D form, it successfully translated itself onto the current generation systems in glorious 3D and has even spread to the PlayStation Portable. Has it continued to grow stronger and learn more powerful justu, or is it on a slow downward spiral to oblivion? Read on to find out.
Game: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations’ story revolves around its main protagonist Naruto as you would expect, but also includes a few side stories to complete the package. It is a new direction for story telling in the series, but over the course of the game you will get to see the tales of Gaara, Itachi, Sasuke, Minato, Jiraya, Kakashi, Killer Bee, Tobi, Zabuza and Haku. Together these streamlined tales will take you from episode one of the original anime series all the way to Shippuden episode 216 focusing on the individual in question. As you can imagine, to cram that much story into one game, quite a few details and fights are skipped over, but for the most part you won’t see anything new here if you are up to date with either the manga or anime.
Disappointingly, the story is mainly told through – what can only be described as screen captures from the anime. It’s not uncommon to find that you are looking at an extreme close-up of a characters face, while listening to voice-overs and narration. You will however, get a fully animated intro and outro sequence upon starting or completing one of the campaigns, which is where you will see the only original story content in the game. Persevere long enough and you will be greeted with a glimpse into the history of Uchiha Madara, but it’s a shame that these story sequences weren’t done using the in-game engine ala previous Ultimate Ninja Storm games.
The game’s visual capture the feel of Masashi Kishimoto’s characters perfectly. Seeing them fly around, performing outlandish techniques in 3D is a pleasure as usual and if anything, gives them a bit more “character” as they enter the 3rd plane of existence. The visuals are backed up by great animations aswell. Seeing characters like Minato perform his “Flying Thunder God” technique, however pre-baked the sequence is, is still unavoidably cool. On the downside, the few 2D animated sequences that feature in the game have been heavily edited due to the age rating of the game, which some might find disappointing.
Considering the ridiculous amount of voice over and narration that happens without any onscreen action to distract you, it is a good thing that Namco haven’t skimped on sound production. From the outside it might look like every voice actor on the planet made an appearance in Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations. All characters are voiced by their anime counterparts, whether you like to watch you’re Naruto in English or Japanese you are catered for. The soundtrack itself is decent enough, with new compositions thrown into the mix, but is rather limited and can become repetitive after a while.
Let’s get the negatives out the way first. If you were a fan of the “adventure ” aspects of the previous two Ultimate Ninja Storm games, then you might as well turn around and walk off in disgust now. These sections have been eradicated, replaced by the uninspired still images mentioned above. No more hub world, no more jump sequences, no more ramen shop! No need to cry, all is not lost, as the series has always been an arena fighter at heart and nothing has changed in that regard.
The streamlined, unencumbered fighting system the series is known for is intact. Freed from the distractions of execution, players are given the chance to focus on defeating their opponent. Here combos are executed with varying presses of your “attack button” whilst to execute the games variation of supers two inputs are required. However, the game is not without a layer of depth when projectiles (kunai), ninja equipment, team-mates and the games all new substitution meter come into play. The substitution ability basically serves as a counter allowing you to instantly hit back against someone who has you in a long combo. Unlike previous games, this is now limited to a meter that will recharge over time. It somewhat stops you from charging in like a madman during fights, as you don’t always have a get out of jail free card. This puts a greater emphasis on reacting to your opponent and getting your positional play correct as running around spamming moves will get you nowhere against a veteran. Meanwhile managing your “chakra” meter remains a prevailing concern, as your damage output and options drastically decrease without it.
The other new addition to the series being “awakening mode”. Once your character’s life is around 25% you will be able to activate this ability providing you have a full chakra bar, giving you increased attack power and a modified skill-set. This gives the game some added “come-back” potential, which seems to be all the rage in modern day fighters. Together the two mechanics manage to add to an already fun and somewhat addictive experience.
Other improvements include a bolstered character roster spanning over 70 characters! That’s a lot by anyone’s estimation, but it should be noted that quite a few of these are variants on the same character with a different ultimate and special ninjutsu. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Ryu, Ken, Akuma situation, but instead it’s the same character further along his/her story arc.
It would also seem that CyberConnect2 has put a little thought into their online and offline game modes this time as there is quite a selection to keep you busy beyond the main story. Alongside general player and ranked matches we now have endless game lobbies, a tournament mode and the strange but interesting card battle mode. The latter allows you to setup a trading card battle before the beginning of the fight. The winner takes all in the form of added bonuses to their character in the fight itself. While on the single player side you have varying degrees of survival, single player tournaments and good old vanilla free battle.
Generations will take the average gamer around 5-6 hours to complete the main story lines, but the sheer amount of unlockable content on offer is staggering. Ninja tools, characters, cards that imbue your fighter with differing bonuses and movies showing combat abilities are but a few and while they are not all essential or even helpful to your time with the game, collectors will want them all. Add to this some extensive multiplayer options that will earn you the money to buy your unlockables and you have a recipe for long lasting appeal.
Despite its perceived simplistic nature Generations manages to add to its already fun formula and bring Kishimoto’s world to life. Regardless of the lazy delivery of its story elements, the game manages to touch on the key components that make Naruto’s story a compelling one and provide a fun fighter while doing so. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise there is enough interesting elements here to warrant at least a rental providing you enjoy the fighting genre.