The prospect of reviewing a licensed title, particularly a licensed title aimed at younger gamers, is always a particular kind of hell, not least because after a while it becomes a challenge to find ways to say a game is "sloppy," "lazy," boring," and a "cheap cash-in." And while I feel a little bad about starting off this review of Naruto Shippuden UNSG, I wanted to give some context to the praise I'm about to bestow upon this 3D fighter.
Featuring a surprisingly tactical one-on-one fighting experience, eye-popping, ripped-from-the-anime visuals, and more than enough to sate the appetites of Naruto fans, it's a fascinating wildcard entry in the most recent crop of new fighting games.
The game is basically a chance to unite the two Naruto manga and anime series, Naruto and the more mature Nature Shippuden, the former featuring a tween version of the titular ninja lead while the latter continues his adventures as a teen.
In the Story Mode, you can play as either incarnation of Naruto, getting a whirlwind tour of the continuity of their respective series. If you don't know, Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja-in-training who's also possessed by a demonic fox spirit that. The series is defined by Naruto's rivalry/friendship with fellow ninja Sasuke who makes a heel turn at the end of the first series, actually becoming Naruto's nemesis.
The structure of the Story Mode involves a series of fights between key characters in the series interspersed with briskly-narrated, for the fans only stills from the series laying out the various conflicts and relationships. The twist here is that you can play as other characters from the franchise, seeing the overall story from their perspective. It's a rush of names and plot points that will probably fly over the head of 100% of non-Naruto fans and even fog the minds of casual series fans like myself. It's not an especially effective introduction to newbies, but it should be a pure joy for fans.
The combat is generally one-on-one or team-on-one or team-on-team, the latter two allowing you to call in your teammates for an assist on the wide-open battlefield. Without getting into the jargon from the game, you have a charge meter that you're able to pump up to execute special moves, but you're vulnerable while charging. Also, evades are handled via a set number of ninja dodge moves, and your primary attacks are jabs, projectiles and throws. Combos aren't set up with the usual direction/button inputs since your character is constantly changing orientation along the game's axis, but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to show off screen-filling special moves. In addition to your normal attacks, each fighter starts with stat-boosting and attack equipment at the start of the match.
Besides the story mode, there's also a Free Play mode, online Multiplayer, and an in-game store featuring stat-boosting cards that can be used in custom multiplayer matches.
Even with its limited move set, Ultimate Ninja Storm plays out like and endlessly varied and complicated game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. But the the thing is, that very shallow description might obscure a great deal of depth in this fighter. You're constantly managing your meter, constantly repositioning yourself, and trying to get in close and deliver a series of dizzying attacks to your enemies.
It's hard to over-state how great this game looks in action
It's easy to get caught up in how good Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations looks, but it truly is one of those titles you need to see in action to get a sense of how great it animates.
Namco needs to work on their netcode or hand it off to someone who knows better
From the archaic match selections (you attempt to select someone from a list of fighters, attempt to connect, get pushed back to the Multiplayer menu), to the frequent failures to connect, it's really about time that Namco's fighting games get the quality networked play that they deserve.
Non-fans might get lost
The franchise story is delivered at a brisk clip and unless you come in with a little bit of knowledge of the Naruto-verse, you might get lost.
It's hard to argue that Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is for fans and non-fans alike, but if you're a fighting game connoisseur, it's definitely worth at least a look for the the unique spin on free movement fighting games.