Before tackling some of the early Naruto games I honestly had no idea who this character was. Making the leap from the pages of manga all the way into gaming consoles this wacky ninja character has become one of the yearly staples of the industry. In the beginning most of the Naruto titles were straight one-on-one fighting games, but lately companies such as Namco Bandai and Ubi-Soft have gone the action/adventure route and given players the ability to roam around Hidden Leaf Village and complete quest for various residents. Ultimate Ninja Storm is a combination of both of these methods combined with some of the most impressive visuals in an anime game yet, easily making this the best incarnation for the series to date.
Ultimate Ninja Storm is broken down into two separate modes and each one resembles previous games in one form or fashion. The single player mode is dubbed Ultimate Mission Mode and feels very similar to last year’s Rise of a Ninja for Xbox 360. You will traverse around Hidden Leaf Village collection items, talking to people and discovering new missions scattered around the environment. You can also purchase new items and unlockables with the currency you find around town or collect from completing different missions.
Missions are broken down into three basic categories mini-games, boss encounters and of course one-on-one fighting. The fighting I will cover more in later, but as far as the mini-games are concerned there is plenty here to keep you busy. If you played last year’s Rise of a Ninja you should be familiar with some of them. Bouncing from tree to tree is commonplace as is engaging in rounds of hide and seek with the village children. Honestly these events are about as fun as they sound and quickly you realize that Mission Mode is certainly the less exciting of the two. However, if you want to unlock all of the extra characters you will have to trudge your way through the 100+ missions found therein, which can quickly become a tedious task.
The second piece of this gaming pie is called Free Battle Mode and really is where the game shines. This mode is exactly what it sounds like, a giant 3D fighting game complete with free movement and plenty of action. Now before you go trading in your copy of Soulcalibur IV let me stress one important thing about Ultimate Ninja Storm. This game is extremely casual much in the same vein as Smash Bros. In fact most of the combat in the game is performed by simply tapping a single button. This will likely be frowned upon by purists, but it actually works out in the game’s benefit simply because there is so much going on during battle memorizing laundry lists of combos would have seriously deterred the action.
When you first jump into the action you will quickly get a sense of Capcom’s classic Power Stone. Movement is entirely free and you can circle opponents from any direction. The face buttons are used for jumping, attacks, chakra and projectiles. You also get to choose helper characters before each match that you can summon in to help you with a single button press. Being as there is only one attack button the game uses a more risk/reward system that gives you a chance to land some truly outlandish combos by simply timing your attacks correctly. Combos are not, however automatic and your opponent can block at anytime, ruining your flashy display of awesomeness.
Everything moves so fast in Ultimate Ninja Storm that if the controls were any more complex you would likely become frustrated. Health bars have been extended and matches can last quite a while the better you get at the game. It definitely gives off a party game vibe and seeing your favorite characters perform their signature moves in glorious high-definition really is worth the price of admission. Everything gels together so well that moving from Battle Mode to Mission Mode feels like a giant leap backwards, but overall there is easily 20-30 solid hours of content to play through here.
Probably the most impressive aspect of the game though is the visuals. In early screenshots we saw the insane amount of detail poured into each character and I am happy to say that has translated into the game flawlessly. This is the closest I have ever seen a game mimic the actual anime in terms of animation and with a rock-solid frame rate to boot. Characters come to life with vibrant colors and incredibly detailed facial expressions. The environments themselves leave a bit to be desired, mostly due to the fact that they are all but deserted, but the entire game is bright and makes great use of the power of the PlayStation 3.
Not everything is happy in the land of Naruto though as Ultimate Ninja Storm does have some setbacks. For starters installs in games are becoming more and more common on the PS3. They are also getting longer and larger and UNS has a gigantic 4GB install that takes nearly a half hour to complete. So when you first get the game boot it up and grab a snack before you plan on playing. Secondly the best part of the game (Free Battle Mode) only has twelve combatants unlocked from the outset. If you want the rest you will have to wade through roughly 15 hours of the Mission Mode to unlock the other thirteen characters. Finally while the boss fights are insanely fun there are just too few of them. Perhaps if they were more frequent in Mission Mode having to play through it might not have gotten so tedious so quickly.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is easily the best entry in the series to date. The fighting mechanics are simple and fun and the visuals are absolutely astonishing to look at. The Mission Mode suffers from lack of variety and tedium, but it still cool to run around the city seeing your favorite characters. As a package UNS is certainly worth checking out for fans of the series, but if you are just into great party games such as Smash Bros. the fighting here is definitely nothing to scoff at. Overall this is easily the best Naruto game to date and more than worth checking out if you are a fan.