The Naruto series of games is another in a long line of fighting titles based on a popular anime series. What seems to set this series apart from the others, however, is its focus on a pick-up-and-play attitude. While many games will focus on a series' storied history (or just its story) Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations aims to streamline everything so the focus is on the gameplay itself.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Released: March 13, 2012
What most folk will notice with this title is that, in story mode, it completely abandons the trope of exploring a hub world, RPG-style, looking for fights along the familiar locales of the series it's based on. Instead, players simply choose from three characters (two versions of Naruto -- older and younger -- plus Sasuke Uchiha, with more characters unlocked through gameplay) and fight through their storylines. The stories themselves are told through minimal cut scenes and single-panel art with voiceover. It's an interesting, albeit minimalist approach to convey a huge amount of story in a short amount of time, allowing players to get right into the action with as little exposition as possible.
When it gets down to the gameplay, this is minimalist as well. There is only one attack button (aside from the long-range shiruken button), and attacks are varied with addition of direction, jump and Chakra, the energy used for special attacks. Because of this one-button attack approach, all the characters essentially play the same. Their move set may be different visually, but no complex combos to memorize means that every fighter will have the same or similar move inputs with which to pelt their opponents. Thankfully, there are support characters you can choose to call in during battle as well.
Battles hinge on various dodge techniques, not the least of which is mastering the substitution, which allows you to teleport behind your opponent in the middle of their punishing combo. You are limited to only 4 of these a fight (to prevent you from repeatedly spamming the maneuver), but sadly, there is no in-game tutorial to aid you in the implementation of this move, and seeing as how crucial it is to winning fights, it's a mode definitely missed.
As you battle, you can earn cards and other multipliers, which can help you customize your characters to your liking. Again, a tutorial mode here would have helped with customization and selection, but honestly, I didn't use the cards all that much anyway. It's mostly used in the online mode as it is, and skilled players will enjoy the advantages that multiple card types will offer.
Speaking of multiplayer, it's your average fighting game fare, offering both player and ranked matches, as well as a tournament mode. There was no noticeable lag or latency issues, and with all the grandiose special attacks and animations, this was a good thing.
Graphically, however, Generations is quite compelling. Environments are vast and expansive, character models are diverse, and everything crackles with energy and power, just as you would expect them to in the Naruto universe. The cut-scenes are a mix of 3D game animation to look like recreated footage from the series, as well as the aforementioned single-panel artwork, and while the presentation of this seems a bit odd when mixed together, it does a great job of telling the extensive story in a concise manner. In battle, the game looks fantastic, with huge effects on the specials, and fantastic 3D environments to roam and take the fights through.
Beyond story mode, there are several free play options, such as single player tournaments or one-on-one offline modes. With over 70 fighters to play with and unlock, there's certainly a robust roster here, but despite some customization, it's clear the focus is on single player story, as that's where the majority of the content is found and unlocked.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is a odd beast. The single player content is very good, and has tons of unlockable content to play through. The online component is also competent, and if you're a fan of the series, undoubtedly your favorite character is here.
However, despite all of that, because there's no tutorial to help you with some of the more advanced techniques, coupled with the simplicity of the standard moves, it ends up feeling very shallow. How a game can feel both shallow and robust at the same time is a mystery, but Generations manages to do just that. It's a good game, just a hollow one.
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