Naruto has definitely had an illustrious video game career so far. Between the frenzied Clash of Ninja series and the portable Clash of Ninja and RPG titles, it seems that the Naruto franchise is quickly becoming quite a powerhouse in gaming. The Ultimate Ninja series has definitely been regarded as one of the best series in the Naruto game franchise and has spawned blockbuster hits on both the PlayStation 2 and PSP.
We’ve had to wait quite awhile for Naruto to pop up on the PlayStation 3, but now that Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm has arrived, it is safe to say that this title was certainly worth the wait. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is a complete departure from previous entries in the series in both format and structure, and there is plenty here for fans of the series, or fighting games in general, to relish in.
The biggest change to the Ultimate Ninja core format in this title is made to the single-player mission mode. While Ultimate Ninja 3 had a semi-open world, with some extra mini-game style missions, Ultimate Ninja Storm takes the open world format to the extreme. The format of the game is still mission-based, but instead of following several linear mission arcs, you are able to determine your own progression through the game by selecting from either “flashback” or “free” missions.
Flashback missions are the main story-based missions and are accessible through the pause menu. The material here should all be familiar to fans of the series and follows Naruto from his first days as a Genin all the way up to the Sasuke Retrieval story arc. However, to play through these different story-based levels, Naruto will have to earn a certain amount of mission points, which can be gained by performing different free missions. The free missions are a little tougher to find, and you’ll have to go around talking to the Konoha villagers in order to find and unlock these missions.
One of the best things about the free missions is that they are a lot more varied than the story-based levels. For instance, some free missions involve collecting or interacting with certain items you find around town, some are timed challenges, and some even involve how many steps you take around town. The free levels definitely add some much-needed variety to the gameplay and are a welcome addition to Ultimate Ninja Storm..
But the format is not the only thing that is different this time around. The combat has also been overhauled in Ultimate Ninja Storm. Although the core mechanics are still the same, the combat system has deepened quite a bit. For instance, you now have access to unlockable special attacks and can customize each character’s move set. You can also customize how you trigger special chakra-based attacks, and you can choose between a buttonmash, command-based, or spin input method.
Ultimate Ninja Storm also uses a brand new tag-team system that allows you to press a button to summon other characters to do a single chakra move. The tag team system is not as deep or involved as the one in the Ultimate Ninja Heroes spin-off series, but it is a nice alternative to doing the same old chakra attacks and can be used very strategically in battle.
In addition to these new elements, a new chakra state has also been added. Fans of the series will recall that previously there was only one chakra-consuming state, which was signaled by the press of a button and a blueish color change. However, a new “Awakening” mode has been added, which is triggered when your character finds themselves in dire straits. The awakening mode can be unlocked by holding the chakra button, and then waiting for your character’s appearance to change. This mode temporarily makes your character stronger, but this momentary strength comes at a price, as the character will have increased vulnerability after the awakening period ends.
Although there are plenty of new battle elements to experiment with in this title, the control here remains remarkably the same. You will still use the circle button for your main attack and the triangle button as your chakra trigger. Veteran Ultimate Ninja players will definitely feel right at home with the same basic control scheme, and newcomers will find the simplistic combo system very inviting. However, if you really don’t like the control system as it is, you can fully customize it to suit your unique style.
Even though the new structure of the game and new battle elements certainly are nice, the most intriguing feature of Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm has to be its striking visual style. When this title was announced earlier this year, the enhanced visuals were certainly the most touted new feature, and the game definitely delivers in this department. The character animations are smooth and crisp, and the series’ trademark cel-shading has really been toned down in favor of a sharper, cleaner look. All the characters and backgrounds are highly detailed, and the different 3D environments look incredible.
The most impressive thing about this game’s visual style is the seamless transition between 2D elements from the anime into 3D. The game achieves a near-perfect anime look, which is definitely no small feat considering the highly-stylized and detailed look of the show. Certain memorable environments from the anime, most notably the Konohagakure rock sculpture, retain an almost pitch-perfect anime look, but have certain 3D elements that accentuate the 2D design nicely. Although the game’s resolution only reaches 720p, the game’s overall look does not seem to need the extra lines of resolution to look absolutely amazing. It’s fairly easy to say that Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is the best-looking anime game produced to date, and it could even be argued that the game looks even better than the anime that inspired it!
In addition to the main story mode, there is also a free-play mode that allows you to play one-on-one with your friends. If I had one complaint about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, it would have to revolve around the barebones structure of this mode. While the story mode is highly customizable and deep, the free play mode only allows you to pick your character, customize your special moves, and set a handicap. The free-play mode would have greatly benefitted from some extra two-player options, and I would have been very excited to see some sort of online versus mode included here as well. But, unfortunately, it seems that the Ultimate Ninja series is just not ready to take the online jump, which is truly a shame.
The sound in this title is very good and features original voiceovers from both the English and Japanese voice cast. Both sets of voiceovers are of excellent quality, which is definitely a good thing since more of the game’s dialogue is voiced in this iteration than in previous titles. The music is also very good in Ultimate Ninja Storm, and I was happy to hear some original tunes included in the game instead of just recycled and remixed tunes from the anime.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm has definitely been on a lot of fans’ radar for quite some time. Although it initially garnered buzz because of its amazing visuals, there is a lot more to this game than just looks. This title is the freshest Naruto title to hit the US, and the new mission format is a welcome break from the usual Naruto brawler formula that has permeated the previous entries in the series. There is plenty of content here to discover, and no matter whether you are a diehard fan or a franchise newbie, you will definitely enjoy Ultimate Ninja Storm’s single-player modes for quite awhile. Though, hopefully the series will have more to offer fans in the future in terms of multiplayer capability. Then we truly will have an Ultimate Ninja!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Graphics are the best of any currently available anime-stylized game. The cel-shaded look has been toned down substantially, and the game almost looks better than the show! 4.5 Control
Controls work extremely well here, and new battle elements do not impact the traditionally simple control scheme. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
With English and Japanese language track options and a nice original score, this title is definitely great to listen to. 4.1 Play Value
The extra missions and open world format give you plenty of extended single-player gameplay time, but the barebones two-player mode and lack of online modes really hurt replay value. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.