Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 review
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a massive leap forward for the anime-based game series, though I am not talking strictly about technology. Keeping all the variations straight can be difficult with entries from numerous developers and publishers spanning the spectrum of systems. More frustrating is that each game covers the same tired ground. Ninja Storm 2 provides the most comprehensive Naruto Shippuden experience, taking players from Naruto's return to the end of the Pain arc.
Most Naruto games, if not all, feature a story mode. They boast of free-roaming modes, three-dimensional recreations of Konohagakure, and engaging dialogues, but such aspects are rarely more than time-killing padding between bouts. Some story modes don't even make sense without prior knowledge of the series. Like its predecessor, which focused on the original series, Ninja Storm 2 makes a valiant effort to offer a deeper and more interactive story mode than expected. It almost succeeds.
Konohagakure is no longer fully explorable. Instead, nearly all areas of the game use pre-rendered backgrounds, as in the early days of Resident Evil and Onimusha. This allows for a greater level of visual detail, including streets bustling with activity, while also making it much easier to find side-missions and hidden collectibles. However, even with the tightened environments, Ninja Storm 2 finds too many excuses to send you trudging back and forth through the same locales and empty forests. It won't be long before you start wishing for a fast-travel option, or even better, a way to fast-forward to the fights.
The fluidity of battle is awe-inspiring. Hands-down this is the most impressive cel-shading to date, and dare I say, far superior to the anime. The characters' ultimate jutsu (special attacks) will blow you away, and the boss-fights... I'm on the verge of a nerd-gasm thinking about them. From dodging Sasori's hurricane of puppets to short and intense rail-shooting segments, CyberConnect2 has created some incredibly memorable scenes. The largest battles escalate into quick-time events with timed button-presses, and quite frankly, there would be no other way to handle the massive levels of devastation, nor a better way to enjoy the spectacle.
Ninja Storm 2 expertly toes the line between the technical aspects of the fighting genre and the button-mashing of brawlers. The core attacks are all performed with one button, which can easily be converted into impressive air-juggles and combos by holding the analog stick in different directions. You can also activate chakra to supercharge your projecticles, pull off quick dashes, and unleash powerful jutsu. It's the type of combat system that's easy enough for everyone to have fun with, and just deep enough to require tactics at higher skill levels.
The depth of combat rests in timing and the choice of character, for which there are 18 initial characters and 26 unlockables. While Naruto is vicious in close-combat and can throw opponents off with the appearance of his clones, Kankuro's puppets are best used from a distance and essentially require players to manage two characters simultaneously. Others, including Sakura and Yamato, aren't the most powerful hand-to-hand combatants, but they have devastating throws and jutsu. Some characters feel under/overpowered, but then again, the character roster is more about fan-service than balance.
The most disappointing feature of the versus modes is the selection of arenas. There are 23 locations, but they are nothing more than flat rings. The previous game had the same problem, but it was also CyberConnect2's first "next-gen" Naruto game. It's a shame to look back at the interactive and multi-tiered stages of CyberConnect2's Ultimate Ninja games for PS2 and think about what could have been. At the very least, the developer has come through and delivered the online battles that fans have longed for.
The game's events don't always follow the anime and manga, and in some cases, the changes can be considered improvements. At other times, it's the same old filler between epic boss battles. No matter what, CyberConnect2 knows the series through and through, and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is one heck of an entertaining action game. If you're not already a fan, it might be time to convert.
[Reviewed on PS3 & Xbox 360]