|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: NAMCO Bandai|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: Spring 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M D'Argenio
Anime fighting game sequels are kind of like sports games in that each new iteration tends to focus on roster updates and improved single-player modes rather than actual innovation to the gameplay system. The upcoming Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is no exception. Fully aware that the prime demographic for this game is the rabid Naruto fan base, NAMCO Bandai has turned the fan service up to 11. Thus far, most of the new features we have seen have been features of the single-player mode made to satisfy the hardcore Naruto fan who is more looking to relive the Naruto story than to challenge others in a competitive setting. That being said, these new features are well-made, and the Naruto fanboy in me is screaming with glee.
Right off the bat, the first trailer for Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 advertises a completely overhauled graphics system. They describe it as "moving anime visuals," and they are right. The use of cel shading in this game is second to none. There are points where it's hard to differentiate between what is an anime cutscene and what is gameplay footage. Even while in motion, the game gets all of Nartuo's classic speed lines and impact effects down perfectly. We are very nearly reaching the point where converted game media will be nearly indistinguishable from the media it was adapted from. Who would have thought that it would be the Naruto franchise leading the charge? Seriously, the graphics in this game would make Square Enix blush.
Of course, graphics are only part of the game's appeal. The set pieces look astounding. For example, seeing the giant Kyuubi attack Konoha is simply brilliant, since all of the buildings crumble individually as he stomps all over them. Thousands of little ninjas and citizens are animated fighting against the Kyuubi for their lives. The flames, though drawn in Naruto's cartoony style, appear as if they are engulfing everything. This is just as badass close up as it is as a backdrop for a fated battle between the Fourth Hokage and Madara Uchiha.
To make these set pieces come alive, NAMCO Bandai has added in a whole new sort of "boss battle" into the story. In the trailer we've seen so far, the Third Hokage takes on the Nine-Tailed Fox on top of Konoha's rooftops. These sequences seem to have fighting game, platforming, and strategy elements. A good portion of the time, the Third Hokage was hopping from rooftop to rooftop, dodging the Kyuubi's blows. When he got close enough, he wailed away at it with his gigantic monkey staff while other Konoha ninja shot fire at it from afar. After a while, the Kyuubi itself would generate an explosion that would blow the Third back across the rooftops. Here, he met with other ninja to charge up a sustained fire assault. It was pretty epic seeing the one-on-one fight transition into something more akin to tactical troop combat.
The whole battle felt cinematic, even though the player will be controlling it the whole way through. In fact, the only actual cinematic portion of the battle was the quick time event that punctuated it all. However, this quick time event had you rapidly filling the shoes of some of Konoha's most powerful ninja, essentially controlling an entire army with one button prompt. This is certainly an interesting spin on the traditional QTE, with the camera focusing more on the overall scene than any individual character.