The “Naruto” franchise is one of the world’s most popular anime series, spawning multiple spinoffs and subseries, hundreds of television episodes, millions of dollars in merchandising -- and dozens of video games. The titular character (seen in the orange/blue jumpsuit, with spiked blonde hair) is one of the most recognizable characters in animation.
Bandai Namco Games Inc. publishes at least one “Naruto”-themed video game per year. The newest offering is from the “Naruto: Shippuden” subseries and titled “Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution.” In layman’s terms, it’s a “Naruto”-themed ninja fighting game.
“Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution” has a gorgeous paintbrush aesthetic: it's reminiscent of famous Edo Period art. And it’s not just the menus that get this look -- the characters look hand-drawn, even during hectic battle animations. The game often switches between this anime-inspired aesthetic and scenes from the actual “Naruto” anime.
Battles are ridiculous and fast-paced. There’s always an explosion happening or someone getting punched into the atmosphere -- it’s completely over the top, but the close-quarters fighting is entertaining, in a juvenile, basic way. There’s a lot of button mashing because your main attack is channeled through just one button, but you unleash a flurry of hits that happen too fast for you to recognize. Then you can follow with a “Chakra Attack” or “Ultimate Jutsu.” There’s another crazy animation, and you go right back to the action.
There’s a ton of content to unlock, pages and pages of character customization accessories, finishing moves, outfits, and new character models. Plus, the fighter roster is north of a hundred. The characters aren’t that diverse -- most still float around effortlessly, they’re ninja, after all -- but there is definite individuality. Naruto feels different from Sakura, Tsunade and even a younger version of himself. Other characters are similarly well-executed, and considering the vastness of the roster, that’s impressive.
You’ll have to unlock almost all of these characters, but the game smartly places rewards at easy intervals -- you earn something every 10,000 ryo, and it’s really easy to earn at least 20,000 each battle.
For devoted fans of the series, Bandai has also included a few original episodic stories, complete with new full-motion videos.
“Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution” is a lot better than expected, and a ton of fun for anime fans.
But it’s nowhere near perfect.
Although the characters and animations are beautiful in battle, and the full-motion videos are commendable, the rest of the game looks terrible. The environments are bland, the texture pop-in is atrocious, and all the environment assets look like they’ve been recycled from PlayStation 2 “Naruto” games. One of these days, Bandai Namco might make a game that takes full advantage of gaming hardware, but today is not that day.
Now, the combat system is worthy of priase, but its simplicity can frustrate fighting-game veterans. Fights aren’t decided so much by skill as by button-mashing; the circle button is the basic attack (no variation for kicks/punches, high/medium/low attacks, etc.), and most encounters rely on you getting in close and slamming the button repeatedly. There is “chakra” (special energy) -- that lets you power up basic attacks or perform jutsu/special moves. It’s difficult to do meaningful damage without relying on chakra, so all too often matches come down to jumping around and waiting for the chakra bar to recharge.
The game does feature counters, but they’re not easy to time. Plus, you’re better served playing keepaway and peppering opponents with projectiles until you get an opening: counters can set up big combos, but your opponent can always ninja substitute after the first barrage anyway, so you may as well go in swinging in the first place.
The camera will make fights a bit of a mess. It focuses on a particular center point on the stage, tracking the back of the character in the foreground. That’s all well and good when your character is in the foreground, but when it’s in the background, good luck seeing much of anything -- you don’t even get an indicator above your head in one-on-one fights. You do get a small colored circle below your combatant in four-player melees, but with all the crazy action on the screen, it doesn’t do all that much good.
There is a story in this game -- the Ninja World Tournament mode -- and it’s centered on four-player “orb battles,” which focus on stealing other characters’ stuff instead of straight-up fights. These quickly devolve into “kill the man with the most.” While that does make logical sense, it also means the computer characters will actually ignore each other if you have a lead.
Should you play this? If you’re already a “Naruto” fan, absolutely. And if you’re into fighting games, this is worth playing, although it’s not worth a full-price purchase. But if you’re anybody else? No. You’ll just be confused.