Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3
CyberConnect2's latest Naruto fighter heads into the manga and anime's Five Kage Summit Arc and Shinobi World War Arc, and an extensive cast of playable characters comes along for the ride.
There are problems to be found in Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, but a weak opening isn't among them. The game begins with the wild spectacle of a towering fox-beast attacking a ninja village, with the player hurled between a pitched roof-to-roof battle and the clash of a masked stranger and Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage. It's a stunning introduction capable of impressing even those vaguely acquainted with Naruto. It also makes promises that the rest of the game can't keep.

Things settle down a bit as Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 turns to the story proper. It finds cocksure, pointy-haired Naruto and his allies chasing their former compatriot Sasuke amid a brewing war, while the masked fellow from the game's prologue reappears. The conflict involves melee battles against pawn enemies, the occasional large-scale boss encounter, and brief races through the scenery in between, but the core of the game is right where it should be: on the brawls between the many strange ninja that people the Naruto universe.

Far from a conventional fighting game, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 lets its combatants dash all around spacious arenas, and the typical battle is a flurry of tossed kunai, glowing auras, and the smoke kicked up by close-range fisticuffs. For something so quick, it's all surprisingly coherent. The player's viewpoint shifts accordingly as ninja scoot all over the field, and it's rarely hard to follow. Confusion and slowdown only arise when assistants leap out to help a main character and their combined attacks fill the screen with enough bedlam to fuel the next Marvel vs. CAPCOM.

If Ultimate Ninja Storm 3's fighting engine nails the rapid flow of a ninja battle, it seems reluctant to take things too deep. Not that it wants entirely for technique; you'll use Chakra Dashes to dodge attacks, greet oncoming shuriken with a countertoss of energized projectiles, and summon a sidekick for distraction as much as an offensive strike. Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and the game's many other playable characters also gather various items to use in battle, providing everything from high explosives to defensive boosts. These arsenals expand with levels gained in either a “Legend” or a “Hero” category, and the story itself occasionally branches along the same lines.

Yet the brawling stays shallow. A meter allows characters to escape attacks by substituting a wooden dummy, and matches quickly turn into a race to deplete an opponent's dodge supply. Indeed, fights are often won by flogging the game's only hand-to-hand attack button, despite the projectiles and charge-able Chakra and other features at hand. Such basic strategies hold true for most of the game's playable cast. Despite a roster that edges past 80 different fighters, a great many of them feel downright familiar in their play styles.

If the gameplay doesn't expand as it should, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 at least stays gorgeous throughout. Cyber Connect 2's cel-shaded animation is staggering in its pace, direction, and fluid detail. Backgrounds and routine conversations may not be particularly striking, but the battles brim with energy, giving even timed button-taps an undeniable gravity. The soundtrack's surprisingly rich, and the game sports both English and Japanese voices straight from the anime series.

And that's what Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is really about, isn't it? It's a chance for Naruto devotees to pick out characters and see their finer skills in crisply rendered form. It's a chance to team up Deidara, Temari, Karin, Chiyo, Shikamaru, Kakashi, or any other three-ninja assortment a fan's heart might desire (with a few exceptions). It's also a chance to see two Naruto storylines compactly retold with some slight differences, particularly toward the end.

Sadly, the storyline is where Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 will lose the uninitiated. Cyber Connect 2 dearly emphasizes the Naruto saga here, and for every brief fight in the single-player mode there's a good ten minutes of cutscenes that all but require a passion for Naruto's plot threads and vocabulary. Those who haven't followed any other form of Naruto will be bored by the time a kage roundtable starts pontificating about nine-tails and tsukuyomi spells. The dialogue tends toward unnatural phrasings, and the generally solid voice acting often can't smooth it out.

Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 won't stand among the market's more complex fighters, though it's well worth a look in the literal sense. Even those outside the anime-and-manga sphere can admire the game's exceptional style, no matter if they turn back once the pretty surface subsides. At least the fans will stay, and they'll find this a capable tribute to their favored series.

Overall : B
Graphics : A
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : B-
Presentation : A-

+ May well be the best that an anime-styled game has ever looked
The fighting mechanics are rote, and there's a high plot-to-playing ratio

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