Naruto games have literally become a dime a dozen. Namco Bandai has deemed it necessary that every platform under the sun receive some sort of Naruto game that tells the Shippuden storyline. And why shouldn't they? It's actually a pretty good story, but not one that needs to be replayed time and time again on different platforms. The latest title, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact is actually a marked improvement over Kizuna Drive which was released only a short nine months ago. Namco Bandai put Cyber Connect 2 in charge of development this time around, and it's pretty obvious that they are the premier studio to handle Naruto games. Those who have played any of their other titles like the excellent Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
on the Xbox 360 know (or at least hope) that they'll be getting a quality experience with Ultimate Ninja Impact (are we confused by how many games are the 'Ultimate' in this franchise yet?). Bringing together cinematic concepts from the previous Naruto games and marrying it to gameplay that is similar if not a straight copy of the Dynasty Warriors formula proved that the Naruto games still offer an enjoyable if derivative gameplay experience.
I think calling Ultimate Ninja Impact a title that is 'inspired' by Dynasty Warriors will sum this title up best. Basic gameplay means exploring small open world maps that are populated with enemies and offer up a small variety of menial tasks, like defeating specific enemies, escorting comrades, or destroy targets that are hindering your progress. You'll also control a variety of ninjas of the Hidden Leaf village along with the usual cast of Naruto, Sakura and Rock Lee, each with their distinct fighting styles offering a small modicum of variation to plowing through waves of enemies. Unfortunately the combat is also where a great deal of the tedium is generated. Outside of mashing the circle button for basic attacks and pressing the occasional triangle button to do a special attack with unskippable cinematic aspects, there isn't much to do, which sucks because at first the attacks look cool and feel powerful, but then you notice that a majority of the enemies would fall over if you looked at them funny. I think part of this is due to being on the PSP and being limited by the technology, but I also think that when you've got a hot property like Naruto, you try to get these games out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Still, that doesn't mean that Cyber Connect 2 had to lift the combat from Kizuna Drive and transplant it straight in to this game and give it the waves of enemies that Dynasty Warriors has, it just feels lazy and gives off the 'gameplay is a chore' vibe a lot more quickly.
Visually, Cyber Connect 2 pulls off the cel-shaded look quite well on the PSP, and while this will never reach the quality of their 360 games it still looks pretty good for a PSP game. The cinematic attacks look great and give off some impressive effects, especially the stuff that Rock Lee pulls off. The use of cinematic stills from the show to convey the story isn't surprising and helps to make the game look more polished, although a little animation would have helped make some of those story heavy sequences a little more tolerable. The audio is the typical Naruto experience, it's quality work and you have the option to listen in either English or Japanese, which is always appreciated.
Ultimate Ninja Impact also offers a decent amount of diversions outside of normal gameplay. There are cards to collect that you can attach to a character to improve their stats, there are special missions to clear that reward you with points to earn more cards. And if you feel like throwing down with your friends there are gameplay modes that allow you and friends to play wirelessly. But a majority of your time will be spent occupying the Ultimate Road which serves as a map for the Shippuden storyline. As you move between nodes on the map you'll unlock bits and pieces of the story over nine chapters, which only get longer and longer as you progress through the game. This game is not something you're likely to conquer over a weekend, and unfortunately the gameplay doesn't exactly lend itself well to gaming on the go.
At it's best, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact is a definite improvement over previous Naruto games on the PSP. The problem is that it's not much of an improvement, the combat gets dull very quickly and when that's the linchpin to your game it causes the whole thing to unravel quickly. If you're a fan of the Naruto franchise and haven't experienced the Shippuden story line either through the anime or other games, then this isn't a half-bad place to start. It's too bad that a lot of the variety that Cyber Connect 2 usually infuses in these games is absent for the PSP offering, because those cinematic bits that they love to do really help break the monotony of gameplay. Like I said, if you've enjoyed other Naruto titles, then you'll probably like what Ultimate Ninja Impact has to offer, but if you've ever been on the fence about this franchise, then do yourself a solid and pick this franchise up on another platform, there's better stuff than Ultimate Ninja Impact.