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Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Cyber Connect2
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Fighting/ Themed

Graphics & Sound:
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is the Ultimate Ninja series' first foray into the 3D fighting genre, and it does so in a very promising way.

When I first saw Ultimate Ninja Storm, all I could think was how amazing it looked. This being the first Naruto PS3 game, I wasn't surprised by this fact, but it still blew me away. In fact, with the possible exception of the Xbox 360 Naruto game (Rise of a Ninja and the soon to be released The Broken Bond), this is the best looking Naruto game to date. The cel-shaded characters and environment take from the show perfectly, and even some of the series' unique looks like puffs of smoke, jutsu and substitutions look like they do in the anime, so major kudos there.

Sound is also really strong in Ultimate Ninja Storm. As you would expect, the music comes straight from the series, so all of the very iconic, energetic tunes come through loud and clear. And, as license fans have come to expect, the voicework is done by the American actors as well. What I really enjoyed were the pre-fight comments made between characters that have a history (especially if you choose the right support characters). It's the details that really help this game out.


Gameplay:
The Ultimate Ninja line has always been a personal favorite as far as the Naruto license is concerned. I've liked the 2D fighting style with multiple planes to give the game some more depth. So when I heard that Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm would pull the series into 3D, I was worried. Quite frankly, most 3D fighting games really blend together for me. At this point, I can't really tell you which Dragon Ball Z games had which characters or features, or which Soul Calibur's had which special fighters. I was seriously worried thatUltimate Ninja Storm would feel like every other 3D fighter out there. Well, the great thing is the game carries over quite a few of the unique features of the previous games in this line. Things like chakra pickups, a multitude of items to use (though the in-fight objects that give you those items seem to be gone) and the sheer energy of the fights all translate into the third dimension really well.

Ultimate Ninja Storm also introduces Support Characters. These are two characters you choose at the onset of the fight that can pop in and perform a move. I've found this really helpful when my fighter was unable to move because of some jutsu. Call in one of your Supports and, most likely, their attack will break you free. Of course, there is a rest period after using a Support Character before you can use him or her again, but you have two so if you use them wisely, that won't be an issue.

Besides the Support Characters, this game also gives you an "Awakening" mode for all of the characters. When low on life, activating this mode gives them a new boost of energy, more powerful attacks and greater speed. For some, like Naruto and Sasuke, this causes a physical transformation (One-Tailed Naruto and Second State Sasuke), while others just glow. Like the Support Characters, this feature really adds a lot of energy to the fights, though it isn't completely original since it can be easily seen in DBZ's many transformations.

Between fights is a whole other world. Actually the open-world area feels a lot like Rise of a Ninja since you will run around the world looking for various missions, though this part of the game isn't nearly as complex and robust as Rise of a Ninja's. Missions in the open world will consist of tasks like playing hide-and-seek with Konohamaru or finding ingredients for the Ichiraku Ramen Bar. By completing open-world missions, you earn Mission XP which are used to unlock Flashback Missions. These are the major events that further that game's story (which starts off right at the beginning and goes all the way to the Sasuke Retrieval Squad). While most of these missions are major fights from the show, not all of them are. One of the early ones has Naruto running around the village looking for cats.

There is also the standard array of collectables that you can purchase, but Ultimate Ninja Storm has found a way to repay your collecting nature. Each Flashback Mission has a diorama associated with it. Once you buy the necessary character figures, jutsu and music, you get treated to a nice scene that recreates a pivotal part of that mission. Again, it's nothing major, but it is a nice detail.


Difficulty:
There are quite a few tough fights in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, but most players who have followed the Ultimate Ninja series shouldn't have a problem with most of the missions. I found that there were only a few scattered throughout the story that game me any kind of real difficulty (as in, it took me more than a couple of attempts to get past), which feels right since these were some of the bigger fights in the show.

What I found a bit disheartening was the fact that the projectile weapons are far less effective in this game than in past Ultimate Ninjas. It isn't that they do less damage or anything, but by allowing the fighters to move around in 3D space, it is a lot easier to dodge them, or in the case of bombs, simply move around them before they go off. I've always liked the series' extensive use of weapons and was saddened to see them weakened by the move to 3D.


Game Mechanics:
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm feels a lot like its PS2 and PSP predecessors, which is great for anyone who has been following the series. Carried over from those games is also how you perform your major attacks, the Ultimate Jutsu. Once you are fully powered up with Chakra and tap the Circle button, if your initial attack hits, you go to one of three different "Battle Commands." These are actions that both fighters must perform in order to determine just how much damage is done. The three types are Command, Mash and Spin. Command shows a series of face buttons on the screen. The players must tap the buttons in order. Damage is determined by how many buttons you get through (there is conceivably an infinite number of buttons in the sequence, but time is the limiting factor here). Mash has both players tapping a face button as fast as possible in order to win a tug-o-war style meter, and the same for Spin where you must spin an analog stick. These aren't all that new, to this series or in general, but I find them very well executed in this particular game.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is a great fighting game for the PS3, and fans of the line will definitely want to look into this version. Is it worth buying a PS3 for? That all really depends on how rabid a Naruto fan you are. This is the system's first game for the license and it really has done a good job showing what the PS3 can do for that knuckle-headed ninja.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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