BitSnark

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Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 Review (XBOX 360)

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When I was a young lad, I had a basic understanding of what a ninja is supposed to be – stealthy, non-confrontational and dressed in black. Cue my exposure to the anime juggernaut that is Naruto and I can see that other kids apparently had a different understanding of ninjas to me. In the Naruto universe, while the ninjas are still impossibly athletic, it is just about the only characteristic that they share with the much loved stereotype of my childhood. Indeed, these ninjas are more like crazy leaping wizards, with their high-powered elemental attacks, monster summoning techniques and often Dragonball Z inspired landscape shifting powers. Oh and they are very confrontational and don’t really wear black. At all.

Luckily the anime series manages to tie all of this ridiculousness down and make a fairly compelling and exciting watch out of it, with many of the stories and by proxy the battles which drive them being hugely epic and enjoyable affairs. Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 does a good job of capturing the grand scale and kinetic mayhem that the series is known for with its vibrant and hugely detailed visuals that represents perhaps the best application of cel-shading seen yet in a videogame. The problem is, the meat of the game is a shallow and sometimes boring affair, with the super huge epic battles distressingly reserved to take place as scripted quick-time events instead of fully interactive clashes.

From the outset the game offers the usual smattering of game modes with players given the choice to fight in regular player vs cpu battles, the obligatory online battle modes or ultimate adventure mode, which is essentially the story mode of the game.

The story itself trundles along at a decent enough pace, taking in all of the major events in the Shippuuden arc all the way up to the big fight with Akatsuki boss – Pain. While fans of the long running series will be disappointed to see that some events and fights have been scaled back (The Hidan/Asuma fight comes to mind), others have actually been padded out and are actually an improvement over the original manga and TV show. An early surprising and visually extravagant brawl between Sasuke and Naruto being a particular example of freewheeling creative license paying off.

The story mode has players exploring major locations from the series, talking to NPC’s, tackling side missions and generally engaging in major parts of the story as you come across them. Fans of the series may be slightly surprised and possibly irked by the size of the game world however as the intricatly hand-drawn loveliness of the stages comes at a cost in so far as there really isn’t a huge amount of exploring to be done. This becomes most painfully apparent when you’re traipsing around the various hidden village hub areas in the game to only realise that the huge, bustling villages from the manga and TV show have been reduced to a small number of admittedly beautifully rendered, exploration screens. Compounding the linearity of the exploration seen here is the fact that the ninja you have under your control, can’t really do much except run about and maybe jump onto a tree branch and jump back down again.

In actuality it makes me pine for the freeform sandbox-esque exploration seen in the earlier Ubisoft Naruto titles where you had free, atheletic reign across the entire village allowing you to run up walls, sprint long distances, leap across rooftops and skate down railings and cables. After all, part of being a ninja is being able to move like one right?

The side missions are largely uninspired predictable scenarios which often require you to fight some random evil folk or collect a set amount of generally uninteresting objects.

Players can also create items to aid them in combat by collecting various parts and ingredients which are dotted around the exploratory stages of the game. As you might guess, this is a boring pursuit and one that reveals itself to be largely pointless in most cases, since you rarely need any of the items that you create to get past any of the fights within the story mode. Sadly it dawns on you fairly early on, that while pleasing to the eyes and fairly relaxing to play; the story mode is in fact pretty dull and lifeless, especially as you spend roughly 80% of it trudging around these ‘exploration screens’ picking up a bunch of stuff that you don’t actually need and talking to placeholder NPC’s in the vein hope of getting them to say something even remotely interesting.

It’s in the fistic confrontations between the various shinobi that the meat of the game exists and even then, it’s a fairly lean meal. In regards to combat, simplicity and accessibility is the order of the day here with single button presses combined singular directional presses forming the core of the fighting system. Needless to say though, if you don’t know your rectum from your elbow when it comes to quarter-circle movements I wouldn’t worry too much.

As well as regular hand to hand attacks, players can use ‘chakra’ which is essentially the equivalent of ‘mana’ in the Naruto universe, to infuse their attacks for extra damage or if the opportunity presents itself and the player has filled their chakra bar, they can unleash an ‘ultimate jutsu’ attack which is the strongest technique at your disposal.

Teamplay also plays a part here as often you find yourself teaming with other ninja and are able to leverage their abilities during battle. These support characters are split up into one of three roles – defence, attack and balanced and in doing so, present a nice additional element of strategy to the proceedings.

Using a support character prevents you from using them for a short time until they become available for use and as such it inevitably pays off to use your noggin in regards to when you should use them. The defensive role support ninja will, when summoned, stand between the player and their foe; acting as a shield and preventing enemy attacks from getting through and obviously a good time to use this role, is when you’re charging up that precious chakra en route to a huge ultimate jutsu attack.

Likewise, an attack focused character will when summoned, wade into the enemy with combos and proves especially useful in either interrupting the enemy if they are pounding you with a depressingly long combo of attacks, or, augmenting your own offense against the enemy with a number of additional attacks.

The final support type, balanced, is useful for tormenting the enemy at range by throwing projectiles alongside the player when the player themselves are using chakra infused projectiles. By far, the best use of this support type however is its ability to cancel incoming ultimate jutsu’s from the enemy at the expense of being able to use the support character for a great deal of time. Granted, the additional layer of strategy that these support roles bring to the game may not be earth shatteringly relevant, but they are welcome nonetheless.

In addition to this, your chosen character can employ various Ninja Tools at their disposal to aid them in winning a battle. Tools such as shiruken, explosive daggers, bombs and status affecting debuffs which can include slowing the enemy or poisoning them, all come into play here and prior to a given fight you also have the opportunity to consume various craftable items that buff your own character in one of a number of aspects too. Even with all the dodging and evading, chakra management, support roles and ninja gadgets, combat in NUNS2 still feels a relatively shallow if still eminently playable affair and while it never plumbs Super Street Fighter IV levels of depth, there is at least enough here to keep fans of the show and fighting game novices alike fairly satisfied.

Where NUNS2 does reliably excel however, is in producing epic spectacle. Acting as the icing on the cake to the no-frills fighting engine, the QTE’s that NUNS2 employs are hugely flamboyant and visually dazzling to say the least. Capitalising on the superb visuals offered by the game engine, these sequences hammer home the point that NUNS2 is by far and away the closest a videogame has ever been to looking like it’s original hand drawn source material and also the fact that the game is a serious contender for one of the best looking games in recent memory.

The fact remains however that these are still QTE’s and if the idea of pressing a small series of buttons at the correct time to see the next ‘Oooh! Ahh!’ moment of grandiose stylish scrapping doesn’t appeal, then the really isn’t a whole lot for you here. In truth as shallow as these moments are, they are entertaining and jaw droppingly worthy enough to be one of two reasons for ploughing through the relative drudgery of the story mode to reach them. The other reason for going through the story mode and certainly one that makes more sense if you are a fan of the series, is that you gain ‘Storm Points’ much quicker throughout the adventure than you do in other modes. The purpose of these points is to unlock new characters and other related bonuses as you accrue more and more them, acting as an incentive to drive you on to the story mode’s impressive finale.

When all is said and done, NUNS2 presents an enticing if not overly deep package for fans of the series. The story mode is entertaining in spurts, but never consistently so due to the amount of trudging about and lazy collect-a-thon game mechanics, while the online mode does nothing that hasn’t already been seen and done better in fighting genre focused titles.

Ultimately the lure of the title lies in the wealth of unlockables and pixel-perfect cartoon visuals that the game effortlessly boasts and as a result, it’s sadly likely that only ardent fans of the anime will give this game any additional attention beyond the first couple of hours, since veteran fight lovers will find little to satiate their fistic appetites.

Overall Score: 6.0

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Written by bitsnark

March 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm

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