It’s clear from the off that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 has been developed with its fanbase solely in mind, and if – like me – you’re unfamiliar with this particular slice of manga/anime, you may find the tale of a young boy’s journey to become the Ultimate Ninja, (or as it’s known in the context of the story, a Hokage), more than a little daunting. Never the less, as far as fighting games go it’s a pretty solid affair, one that’s resplendent with beautifully drawn characters and environments and the kind of super slick, stylish animation found in many of today’s Japanese animated cinema.
Attack, jump, special moves and shurikens are consigned to each of the four main controller buttons making string attacks, juggles and combos easy to pull out of the bag. Whilst some may bulk at the simplistic control scheme, there’s a good reason why this approach has been adopted: fighting arenas in Ninja Storm 2 work in a full three dimensional plane that constantly shifts and turns depending on your location during combat. It’s an interesting take on the 3D fighter and one that works towards convincing the player they’re in a living anime crammed with colourful explosions of power and dazzling pyrotechnics. Each of the characters can call upon ‘Chakra’ which, put simply, is a bond of elemental and physical energy that can be harnessed to unleash Jutsu (abilities) or Ultimate Jutsu (special finishers), all of which are quite magnificent in their execution and can turn the tide of battle in an heartbeat. Combining Chakra with simple attacks can also unleash powerful combos, allowing one to launch their opponent high into the air for a juggle attack before slamming them back down to the ground below.
What makes each fight so visually engaging is the camera frantically following the action frame by frame; from simple combo to spectacular finishing move it’ll have your head in a spin. Unleash an Ultimate Jutsu and the camera will zoom in to capture determination etched across their faces and then quickly zoom out to show the entire arena before panning around as each fighter jumps back from a flurry of blows. The real skill involved in Ninja Storm 2 is being able to use the ever shifting three dimensional environments to your advantage, especially during team battles where you and your opponent can call upon others fighters to help out with guard, defensive and balance attacks. Constantly moving around the arena, using Chakra to quickly zigzag forward to then launch into the air at just the right moment to get behind an opponent in a surprise move is a requisite for success. Done right it can be immensely satisfying, and once mastered you’ll be able to give even the most challenging of players the run around, chipping away at their life force in a dazzling display of skill before taking them down with an audacious finishing move.
As well as a Free Battle mode, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 allows you to take the combat online-the first in the series to do so- and, more interestingly, has an ‘Ultimate Adventure’ mode much like the story mode found in Tekken 6. However, unlike the former, Cyber Connect 2’s offering doesn’t feel tacked on and is a much more fleshed out experience that goes a long way to explaining who Naruto is and some of the history behind the world and the characters therein. Beginning in a place known as Hidden Leaf Village, Naruto returns from a three year training stint and it’s here that you’re thrown into a brief introduction to the games key fighting mechanics, how to obtain, trade and buy items and how to explore and interact with the world Naruto inhabits. Encounters through the course of the adventure are played out the same as in the single player mode but with the added twist that boss fights are intertwined with QTEs and mini-puzzle games which add an extra dimension to the combat whilst also working as an excuse for the game to show off some of its stunning visuals.
Ultimate Adventure also allows you to unlock a huge array of extras and goodies for use in online play, VS and single player modes. As with many of today’s beat em ups, gamers expect more than just a simple Single Player and VS mode for their hard earned cash and so between Ultimate Adventure, Free Battle, VS, Online Battle and tons of hidden extras there’ certainly a lot of bang for your buck to be found here and as such you may quickly find yourself spending hours trying to discover and unlock all these hidden extras. It’s also worth nothing that Naruto is infused with fantastic audio. From the ‘whoosh’ of air as your fighter zips, flips and springs into combat; the deafening crack of lightening exploding forth from fingertips; and the thunder of the ground being ripped up through sheer force; there really is nothing else like it.
Still, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 won’t appeal to everyone outside of the core fanbase, and with its strong leanings toward Japanese culture it could be off-putting for some audiences. Its lack of depth, when compared to other fighters currently on the market, will almost certainly have beat ‘em up aficionados turn their collective noses up at it, and that it’s considered a ‘kids cartoon’ by many will undoubtedly see Ninja Storm 2 ignored by the older generation. Having said that, what it does do is not only offer up a unique spin on the traditional beat ‘em up, but it does it with a sense of style and razor sharp direction rarely seen in many of today’s video games. It’s not perfect, but its damn good fun and that alone is perhaps enough for Naruto to garner a few more fans who hail from the west.