I am not a Naruto fan.
I might as well get that out of the way at the beginning, right? I mean, I don’t dislike the series—and I’ve seen and experienced enough of it to be able to tell you names of major characters or certain plot points. As an overall series, however, I just can’t get into Naruto. Maybe I can blame that on young boy’s comics from Japan—such as this, DragonBall Z, and One Piece—and their trend to go on for years and years and years. I like my stories shorter, better paced, and not filled with bratty young boys who “one day will become a man”.
That said, I’ve had some experience with CyberConnect2’s Naruto fighting games—and their style of fast-action gameplay has always made me want to sit down and actually get deep into one of them. So, here was my chance to see if the latest chapter—Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations—could make me a fan of the series. Or, at least, a fan of the game series.
The “Generations” part of the game’s subtitle denotes that we’re going to be spanning multiple eras of the long-running Naruto storyline; this is evident in both Generations‘ single-player storyline and character selection. A meaty roster of 72 characters are present, but this takes into account multiple versions of particular characters (such as Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura) depicting different ages or fighting styles to tie into various points in the series.
For those not deeply familiar with the Naruto franchise, it’d be easy to decry the roster as being a lot of “clones” with minimally changed move rosters. While I may not be a die-hard Naruto fan, I do understand the importance of getting characters “right”—so I can appreciate the fact that CyberConnect2 offers up those different choices.
To unlock that full roster, you’ll need to spend a lot of time with the game’s story mode—and here’s where your interest will greatly vary depending on your love for Naruto lore. Fans will get a real kick out of single-player; the game not only presents fully-voiced story segments from across Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, but also entirely new plot lines and animated cutscenes done by Studio Pierrot (the team behind the long-running Naruto TV anime). If, instead, you’re coming to Generations more for the fighting game and less for the fiction, then that single-player mode can feel like little more than a never-ending series of cutscene-fighting-cutscene-fighting that stands between you and a fully unlocked roster of characters.
Would people who don’t deeply care about Naruto even have an interest in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations? Actually—quite possibly. Even if the choice of characters seems to you to be nothing more than “blond-haired ninja boy” or “pink-haired ninja girl”, the battles that play out between those characters are a whole lot of fun. When two adversaries are running around the battlefield, exchanging flashy and furious moves back and forth, and the camera is panning and angling itself in dramatic fashions, it isn’t hard to get swept up in what’s going on. This actually feels like an anime come to life and made interactive on my game console, you’ll tell yourself. And that feeling is pretty damn cool.
Part of what really sells that anime-esque feel are the visuals CyberConnect2 have put together for Generations. Their cel-shaded character models are worthy representations of the heroes and villains of the Naruto universe, but it’s character animation where the game reaches unbelievable levels. The animation in this game is so, so good; the fluidity displayed when characters are running around, jumping through the air, pulling off an attack, or whatever else they might be doing at any given moment is so good that, at times, it’s downright shocking.
Controls are very simple: One button for your close-range attacks, one button for throwing long-range projectiles, one button for jumping, and one button to charge and/or unleash chakra-based special moves. (And then a few non-action options, such as guarding, substitution jutsu for escaping combos, or calling in support characters.)
The simplicity in Generations‘ controls are both its strength and weakness. CyberConnect2 packs a surprising amount of depth into gameplay with that small selection of options; the true complexity of matches here comes not from a large roster of attacks, but knowing when to use what you have. This simpler style allows more casual fighting game fans to find an easier point of entry, and it keeps matches fast-paced and focused. Once you get into the rhythm of Generations, it’s easy to have a blast in those matches—especially when you’ve got a good opponent sitting on the couch next to you, or somewhere out there on the internet.
And yet—I was just never able to shake the feeling that, had CyberConnect2 put just a little more depth into Generations‘ gameplay, they could really have something special here. Push the engine just a little farther, and this could go from an enjoyable game for Naruto fans to an enjoyable game for anybody.
That might not even be a totally fair statement to make, however. Naruto fans certainly will enjoy the heck out of Generations—at least, I believe so in my attempt to put myself in the mindset of a fan—but why couldn’t they enjoy having the game have a bit more depth to it as well? I’m not talking Street Fighter IV-level complexity or anything—just a bit more variety in what moves each character can pull off, and a little more of a feeling that I’m directly responsible for all of the cool stuff my characters is doing as I’m mashing buttons. This is especially true when given that Naruto is a series based so heavily around watching cool fights unfold; after seeing your character do the exact same combo over and over enough times, the impact can end up wearing off.
Still, I commend CyberConnect2 for the franchise they’ve put together here. If I were a die-hard Naruto fan, I’d probably be going gaga for this game and the endless bouts I could be having with my friends. Yet, I’m not one of those fans—and I still had fun. I could easily see this game sitting on my shelf, waiting for a lazy Sunday when I just want to spend some time beating opponents up, or pulled out when my friends and I have some alcohol in our systems and want some intense (yet not too complex) competition. Anytime you can enjoy what a game has to offer in spite of its theme or intended fan base, I consider that a success.
I just wonder where this game—and the series as a whole—could be if taken if given more grandiose ambitions. Maybe Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations could become even bigger and better for its most devoted fans—and make believers of those who usually wouldn’t be willing to give anything labelled “Naruto” a try as well.
SUMMARY: Though not quite as ambitious as it could (or should) be, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is an enjoyable and accessible fighting game—one that you don’t have to be a Naruto fan in order to enjoy.
- THE GOOD: Combat that feels like an anime come to life, fantastic character animation, a huge roster of character choices.
- THE BAD: A gameplay engine that—while fun—does feel a bit too shallow at times.
- THE UGLY: Having to unlock 90% (or so) of the character roster—curse you unlocks!
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.
Are you a hardcore Naruto fan who has played Generations and has an opinion on the game? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below—even if it’s to call me an idiot for what I said about the game.