Namco Bandai Games
XBox 360, PS3
Beat 'Em Up
As Naruto Fans go, specifically Irish ones, I would consider myself something of a Hokage. If you don’t know what that is, just rest assured I know a Rasengan from a Chidori. So, you may ask, can the “Narutoverse” translate well into the vaunted medium of video games? I thoroughly believe so.
Has it? Well…
Its complicated source material certainly, so here’s some simple logic to follow:
When ‘there’ equals ‘exciting, compelling games’,
Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is less than there.
But it’s not too far off.
To its credit, the Ultimate Ninja series has long tried to be more than a simple Beat ‘Em Up. Unlike the half-assed efforts of Tekken and Street Fighter Arcade Modes, Naruto SUNS 2 endeavours to include the player in the rich tapestry of the long-standing anime. This time the open world environment mimics popular JRPGs like Pokemon and Final Fantasy, rather than its previous sandbox design.
This was its first mistake. And in the ninja world, you can’t afford mistakes!
Unless of course the anime needs a filler arc…
At first, milling through the Hidden Leaf Village of Konoha as the titular, ill-tempered gutsy ninja, collecting ingredients for devastating inventory items, interacting with NPCs, acquiring side missions, and chowing down on some delicious ramen is a blast, and provides unlimited exposition into Naruto’s world.
However soon enough, traipsing up and down the same streets becomes tiresome, and the absence of any fast travel is perplexing given 1) the amount of time spent backtracking and 2) Ninja’s are fierce speedy!
When the story calls for a scrap though, the gameplay improves and the insanity multiplies. Differing from standard fighters, Naruto handles more like Assassins Creed’s Ezio. Wide open arenas can be traversed, there is the occasional piece of light platforming, and a modest array of combat abilities can be combined with some excessively spectacular results.
Each of the many playable characters toss kunai, somersault effortlessly, chain outrageous combos, use affecting inventory items, deploy decoys, and tag in teammates for some additional carnage while they load up on Chakra to administer patented Ninjutsu techniques. Any of these colourful, hyper-violent manoeuvres would put most of SF4’s ultra combos to shame. Sure the move set is limited, and there is a tendency to mash the bash button, but Naruto SUNS 2’s colourful exterior conceals a deeply tactical fighting game.
But once again, the combat system feels like a narrowly missed opportunity. It’s a huge shame Naruto cant ape the open world mechanics of acclaimed sandboxes like Assassins Creed 2 or Red Dead Redemption. If bombing round Florence as an agile warrior, dispatching enemies with a host of clever tricks sounds like fun, how about clambering through gargantuan forests as ninjas that can multiply themselves, walk on water, teleport, spit fire, hypnotize opponents and occasionally punch a hole through a mountain.
The potential is obviously there, but Konoha’s newest Sage will have to continue his wait for a truly gripping gaming experience, rather than a liner, scripted series of encounters.
Despite these disappointments, there’s plenty to admire in Naruto SUNS 2. Most immediately noticeably, the game is bloody gorgeous. Character and environmental design do such a fine job reverting to the expertly drawn Anime every week is actually a let down.
And the Boss Battles are unfathomably exciting. Each boss encounter usually consists of two distinct engagements, one on the rails sequence i.e. shooter, racer, etc and are sandwiched by elaborately orchestrated, over the top, balls to the wall insane QTE’s. These typically see our hyperactive protagonist kicking all varieties of tail. And what’s more, these electrifying sequences are viewable from the options menu, and there’s no shortage of them.
Fans should be plenty happy with the service done to their beloved anime, but the unfamiliar gamer’s interest may too be piqued by stunning visuals, a vast roster and strategic battles. This JRPG is not the platform to do the Jinchuuriki’s tales (tails) justice, but far be it from me to over-criticize a title that so obviously tries to get everything right and manages an awful lot of it.
And for the love of assorted gods, set the audio to Japanese with English subs. You’ll thank me for it later.