Reviewed: November 2, 2010
Released: October 19, 2010
At first blush, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja: Storm 2 might seem like the kind of game that you're either sold on or entirely ready to ignore. A licensed fighting game based on the massively popular anime and manga Naruto, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja: Storm 2 gives the impression that it's the kind of game that fans of the series and nobody else, but excellent graphics, a well-executed story mode, and online multiplayer make the game a great ride.|
Starting the game up, the first thing that makes an impression is how good the game looks and sounds. The half-feudal, half-modern look of the setting comes across in hand-drawn backgrounds, while the characters are drawn in beautiful cel-shaded 3d that might as well be hand drawn. Everything about the game gives it the character of a cartoon come to life, down to the voice acting, which draws from the actors who worked on the anime and features both English and Japanese voice tracks.
While the bulk of the game is a fighting game, the story mode, Ultimate Adventure, is a light role-playing game that follows the plotline of Naruto Shippuden, punctuated by combat. Major fights have exciting quick-time sequences that allow the player to unleash unorthodox uses of the characters' powers, such as Naruto using his duplication powers to bombard his opponent with dozens of himself from above. Additionally, occasional fights diverge wildly from the standard model, such as when Gaara has to take to the sky to drive off a villainous ninja attacking Hidden Sand Village. Between the fights, you're left to wander through the world, looking for optional pickups, and solving jobs for people you encounter.
Unfortunately, while Ultimate Adventure's fights that shake up the formula are great, the time spent running around between them is somewhat disheartening and slows the pace down dramatically. While you can collect items to craft new selections for stores, build friendships with fellow ninjas, collect icons and titles for online play, and unlock new characters in a rather impressive roster, it feels like there's relatively little to keep the player pushing on, especially with the amount of un-skippable travel in between fights. Additionally, the campaign serves as a somewhat poor tutorial for playing the game against real opponents, with most battles won easily through button mashing. While I'm hardly one to complain about quick progress through a game, I was a little shocked by how thoroughly I was dismantled in my online matches.
Speaking of playing online, outside of Ultimate Adventure, the game features Free Battle and Online Battle. The former allows you to create a team of one fighter and two support characters to play against the computer or a second player, as well as allowing the player to set up battles between two computer-controlled teams. The latter allows players to bring the fight online. While there's a rudimentary ranking system in place to keep matching fair, a lack of automated matchmaking drags the experience down a little. I might just be spoiled by other games, but the fact that I can't drop into a game immediately, or queue up matchmaking while I'm in other modes is kind of a letdown.
The game is simple enough to pick up and play, with enough depth that newcomers won't be able to button-mash their way through competition with the elite. Pressing the attack button allows the player to chain combos together easily, and each character has their own unique fighting style, with Naruto creating clones of himself to aid in his attack, while the puppet master, Chiyo uses a pair of life-sized mannequins to attack her opponent as she tries to evade her attacks, and Rock Lee simply uses his own skills and a minimum of supernatural abilities. Even though the commands are similar for each character, the various styles adds enough variety in play style that a bevy of different special attack commands aren't necessary to differentiate characters.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja: Storm 2 should be a foregone conclusion to fans of the series who want a chance to play through the story themselves. However, even for people who don't consider themselves fans of the anime or manga, the beautiful graphics and dynamic boss fights in the Ultimate Adventure mode should provide enough motivation to take a risk on this game, and they'd best believe it.