|System: Xbox 360, PS3*|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: March 13, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Cartoon Violence, Mild Language|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Naruto fighting games have never sold themselves on their tournament viability. Instead of building a solid and balanced fighting engine, Cyber Connect 2 has always been more concerned with delivering an authentic Naruto experience to fans of the anime and manga. Knowing this, CC2 went all out when they made Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations. The game is just stuffed full of enough fan service to make any Naruto fan scream with glee.
Every fighting game fan wants to know about the roster first, and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations does not disappoint. Following in the footsteps of games such as Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, UNSG seeks to include as many characters as possible. Its roster of over 70 fighters spans all Naruto storylines from the very beginning of the anime to the current story arc of Naruto Shippuden. This means that you will encounter multiple versions of the same characters, even though they play differently. For example, you'll see young Naruto, old Naruto, sage mode Naruto, and more. Not only that, but each of these characters has an "awakening" mode that gives them entirely new moves and abilities. For example, Naruto's awakening envelopes him in a veil of the Nine-Tails' chakra. The roster alone is filled with references to events in the anime and manga, and that is only scratching the surface.
For those of you who have never played a Naruto game before, the Ninja Storm series plays out a lot more like a 3D action game than a fighter. You have an attack button, a block button, a ranged attack button, and a chakra button. The majority of the game involves stringing together combos with the attack button to produce different interesting attacks. Combos are fast and hit from many directions, and as a result can be very difficult to block. Luckily, you also have the "substitution" button, which makes you instantly teleport behind your opponent while getting hit. Substitutions now operate off of a substitution bar which fills over time, so you can't spam it as much as you used to be able to. Instead, it is used like a sort of "burst" mechanic—a get-out-of-combo button that you only use when you feel like you will be taking a lot of damage.
Each character has the normal array of attacks from the anime that you would expect. Naruto uses the Rasengan, Sasuke uses the Chidori, and Rock Lee punches people a lot. It's all practically copy/pasted directly from the pages of the manga. You activate these by using the charka button in conjunction with your normal attacks. Unfortunately, the system of "press the chakra button a certain amount of times before attacking" feels a little weird. There's no visual confirmation that you are pressing the button outside of the normal "chakra charge" animation you get when you hold the button down normally. As a result, it's a little hard to figure out whether or not you have pressed the button twice for a charged move or three times for an ultimate move when you are frantically button mashing in the middle of a battle. On the upside, this new system makes it easy to work special moves into your combos.
What's interesting about Generations' battle system is its level of complexity. Outside of the normal moves, special moves, blocking, substitution, chakra charging, awakening, jumping, aerial combat, throws, and other basic elements of the battle system, there is also an assist system as well. You can bring two assist characters into battle, which can be called on to help you when their assist meter is full. Using assists successfully builds your team meter, and when your team meter is full your assist characters will enter the field and fight for you automatically. This then unlocks a special ultimate team move which does an incredible amount of damage. Assist characters range from the normal fighting roster to obscure NPCs from the Naruto series. The ability to craft your own dream team and bring them into battle is one of the coolest parts of the game.
The battles aren't the most balanced here, but they sure are fun. Unlike past Naruto titles, you don't run into circumstances where the most powerful character in the story is the most powerful character in the game. Powerful characters are given flashier moves, but the damage output of each character is fairly standardized across the board. Granted, there are characters that have many more options, and I've encountered more than a few characters that can just cheese you out every match by spamming one exploitable move. Still, just about every character feels somewhat viable. It doesn't feel like the game is punishing you for choosing your favorite character anymore, which is a welcome change.
Believe it or not, the multiplayer isn't the most appealing feature of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations. For once, the single-player portion of a fighting game takes center stage. Generations' single-player walks you through the entirety of the Naruto storyline from the very beginning to the current plot arc. In fact, the game even gives you previews of plot arcs that haven't yet made it to America. The story is told through still frames from the anime as well as full anime cutscenes. In fact, the game includes over an hour of brand new anime footage made by the same people who work on the animated series. Every character is voiced by their official actors in both English and Japanese, allowing you to listen to the game in whichever way that you prefer.