I'm not the biggest fan of the Naruto anime, but I'll be damned if they haven't created some fun games from the series that do a great job of making you feel like a bad-ass ninja. I was always on the fence about the titles that focused more on attempting to make a fighting game out of the series, preferring the open world style. It looks like Namco Bandai was thinking of me when they created Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. Now while I might not understand what that title entails just from reading it, but after playing the game I can say they captured the spirit and the essence of the anime quite well. From the epic battles between Naruto and Sasuke to the incredibly well represented characters; developer Cyber Connect 2 seems to have nailed the Naruto experience. Anyone who likes fun would do well to check out this game.
First I've got to say that this game looks so much like the anime it's almost eerie. The cel-shading techniques at times have this game looking like I was watching the show, which is no small feat in my eyes. Each character looks and acts the part, from their designs to mannerisms and even facial expressions, all are captured flawlessly in this game. From Naruto to Neji, Sakura to Sasuke, and even Choji look fantastic with this game's graphic styling. You're really in for a treat during the cinematic battles as they'll show just how much Cyber Connect 2 understands the Naruto world. The cel-shading against hand drawn backdrops work quite well and really help sell the strolls I take through the Hidden Leaf village. The sound team should also be commended with matching the shows aesthetics, the music and sound effects are spot on, and the voice acting is great in either English or Japanese. This game really cannot disappoint from an audio/visual standpoint.
One thing that I enjoy about the Naruto games is that they are like a Cliffs Notes version of the show, packing in all the action without nearly as much of the fluff. I can get the entire Shippuden story arc in just one game. For example, the first two chapters of the game actually cover over fifty episodes. To take the time to watch that would far exceed what I have available these days, so I can really appreciate the condensed package that Namco Bandai offers, not to mention that if you just wanted the story, buying the game would save over purchasing individual DVDs. It's not as though they skimp on content, they just have it really well trimmed. You'll still see the story from different points of view while getting the main bits. I don't think I really need to get in to the Naruto story if you're reading this review, but just know that it matches the show quite faithfully, with all the important battles and story arcs intact. You'll be rescuing Gaara, fighting Orochimaru, and even taking on the Akatsuki group all in this tight little package. There are also quite a few references to the original Naruto series that serve as bonus fan service, if you are skilled enough to reach them.
The best way to describe the gameplay of Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is that it is varied; you've got a lot of gathering to do, in the midst of exploring the Naruto universe and occasionally you have to fight. It's a simplistic set up but it gets the job done. If anything it actually expands the gameplay a bit further than it really need to be, and not in a good way. Most people playing these games aren't looking to hunt for materials to make ninja weapons, they'd rather be fighting. And to their credit Cyber Connect 2 has offered up an online option or a free match option that allows you to recreate your ninja dream match. Though if you want to unlock all the characters then you'll be forced to play through the storyline, which will run you about 20 hours.
Getting in to the actual meat and potatoes of this game, combat plays just like previous Naruto titles, which is a little awkward for a two player game since the camera placement isn't like traditional 3D fighting games. Considering the fast paced nature of this game though it feels appropriate, it just takes some getting used to. Once you do though the fighting is a ton of fun, with matches taking place in a variety of locales that match the show quite well. Physical attacks are mapped to the B button with modifiers to the combos being dependent on where you move the analog stick. If you want to play the ranged game there are plenty of shuriken and ninja tools to go around that will make getting in close to you a chore. Cyber Connect 2 also saw it absolutely vital to keep each characters signature moves, and with a quick burst of chakra they are available, and can be quite devastating. There are also a number of evasion techniques available, from using chakra to dash away to being able to evade enemy attacks with a quick press of the Right Trigger when attacked (side note, I wish they had a meter for how often you could fully evade an enemy attack as a number of matches just felt like a match of who had turbo mapped to their right trigger). There are also support characters who can get in to the mix and offer a variety of attacks to get you out of a jam or help you put down your opponent quite quickly. Though it's a bit disappointing to see that some of the later character unlocks are quite top tier versus the opening cast. This made fighting online a bit more difficult than it really should have been, with higher level players sticking to a set group of people. Thankfully the game offers options to search for players close to your skill level, otherwise I would have gone back to Street Fighter in a hurry.
Cyber Connect 2 also did a great job of keeping these fights from getting stale by making some of the more important matches a much more cinematic experience, adding a quick time event style mechanic that does a great job of replicating the show. The only weak side to this is if you fail one string of event then the whole event is failed, rather than stumbling through the fight. Thankfully the developer didn't want to punish the player too much so you'll simply have to try again from the failed event. It's been seen many a time before where failing a quick time event takes you back to the beginning of a really long string of events that only serve to frustrate the player, so it's greatly appreciated here. There are some fights that a quite out there too, where gameplay takes on a completely different style. One fight feels like a Panzer Dragoon on-rails shooter, while another feels like a third person shooter. This variety really helped out the game and it's great to see that the developer didn't just rest on having each battle be a straight up fight.
If there is any weakness to the title it's got to be the parts where this game feels like a slow grind to unlock content. If you want some better ninja weapons you'll have to go gather materials for it. I don't remember episodes where Naruto went digging through bushes for seeds and the like. You also unlock content through fights that give you 'storm points' which also just feel like an arbitrary bar that is being filled before you get something out of it. Some of these side quests are a little better than others though, like the hunt for dolls which will just be a basic fight, but sometimes it's what you need to break up the monotony of searching for stuff. This game goes on for quite a while and really it could have been shortened up quite a bit but not having some of this superfluous gameplay for the sake of content that could have just as easily been unlocked by progressing through the game.
Another niggling issue is the constant need to travel from place to place to proceed through the story, some of the treks feel unnecessarily long, but at the same time make the world feel like a much smaller place than it actually is since you'll be seeing the same locales quite a bit. In the grand scheme of things this is a real minor complaint, but when we're talking about artificially extending gameplay for the sake of play time, slow travels is certainly a thorn that should be avoided.
Having been a fan of the other Naruto games (developed by Ubisoft) I was a little bit skeptical of Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, feeling that The Broken Bond and Rise of a Ninja were better titles and handled exploration a bit better. But I'm glad to see that Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is just as capable an experience as any other title in the Naruto universe. It does a fantastic job of replicating the show inside and out. The fighting mechanics are solid, and the game looks hardly any different from watching the show. It's really impressive to see what Cyber Connect 2 has accomplished. Now if only someone could do this with the Bleach series, then I'll be really impressed. Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a must for any fan of the Naruto series, even the most skeptical anime fans out there could find something to love from the series with this game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.