If the words "Nine-Tailed Demon Fox" or "Hokage" mean nothing to you, then you've either never heard of Naruto or you've found yourself discouraged by the sheer number of episodes. Naruto isn't as complicated as some make it out to be, but it has become a cinematic and literary behemoth. Whether you're an anime fan or a manga reader, one sobering fact lingers: the Naruto saga is littered with interweaving stories, backstories, and a sea of different characters (from a multitude of different ninja clans). I can understand why non-fans would feel overwhelmed. In fact, as a casual Naruto fan, even I'm sweating at the brow just from thinking about it.
It also doesn't help that there have been countless Naruto video games, spread across a number of different platforms. The xbox 360 has seen three so far, with Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations being the most recent. Prior to this title, the developers, Cyberconnect2, brought us Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 1 and 2 through their publisher Namco Bandai Games. All three titles have been fighting games, but unlike other traditional fighting games (like Tekken, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat etc.), the action occurs in a sizeable arena, where you're allowed enough freedom to fling shurikens at your foes, evade their fiery range attacks, charge your chakra (a bit like chi or mojo), and unleash your inner demon. But make no mistake, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is a spectacularly beautiful game. The near-flawless use of cell shading captures the look and feel of the anime series perfectly.
If you're new to Naruto and would like to see what the fuss is all about, then Generations is the perfect launchpad into this strange but delightful Japanese franchise. However, Generations does lack the role-playing elements from the previous games, or the convenient hub from which all the story missions originate. In Generations, the story mode is presented as consecutive fights set within distinct character-specific story paths. The individual fights are bridged by stills and animation sequences from the anime, while the general story is explained through accompanying narration. It's not perfect, but you get the general gist of Naruto Uzumaki's childhood, his later rivalry with his one-time friend, Sasuke Uchiha, and Naruto's desperate efforts to reconcile with his estranged friend. In a separate playable story arc, Sasuke's turbulent fall from grace, and his overpowering desire to wreak vengeance on his brother is also covered. If you've been reading the original manga series, the game covers both Part I (the first 238 chapters) and Part II (from Chapter 245 onwards) of Masashi Kishimoto's manga series.
In terms of gameplay, Generations takes inspiration from its prequels. The simplified pick-up-and-play gameplay remains intact, while the action plays out at a blistering pace. It's one of those fighting games that dazzles onlookers with incredible cinematic feats and awe-inspiring moves. There are times when you literally feel as if you're watching the anime. It also seems as though the moves are incredibly difficult to perform, yet the core gameplay relies on a simplified combo system. One button is used for attack (and variation in combo moves are achieved through the direction controller). The more impressive moves, like the jutsu and super-jutsu attacks require baby-sitting your chakra bar, but even then most of the devastating moves are only a mere two-button combo away. If you're being pummelled into submission, there's also an option to level the playing field by entering the “Awakening” state. This unleashes your inner beast, and for a limited time, you benefit from increased speed and power. It may all sound painfully easy, and rife with button-mashing, but that isn't the case here. Hidden amongst all the colourful animation there's a deep strategic game waiting to be unveiled. It all boils down to timing and knowing when to unleash your various moves, or when to charge your chakra, or even when to dig into your pockets to use one of the auxiliary Ninja Tools.
This simple mantra is extended even further with the addition of a substitution meter. With a simple press of one of the shoulder buttons, your character can use their vast ninjitsu training to escape a brutal onslaught by physically vanishing before the eyes of your foes or bringing in an ally for a nasty jutsu reprisal. But, unlike in the previous titles, this ability is limited, and it comes with a cool-down (and recharge bar). It's a simple addition that changes how matches play out. What surprised me, is that the game may be easy to get to grips with, but it's certainly hard to master.
The title ships with an unfathomable amount of unlockable content. It goes further than just unlocking character images or tidbits here and there. In this game, there are also new ninja tools to uncover, movie clips, collectable Ninja cards and even customisable titles (that can be used alongside a ninja card during online play) to be unlocked. But the cherry on the cake has to be the +70 playable fighters (of which the vast majority only become available through advancing through the story mode).
Where Generations truly hits its stride is through the multiplayer modes, thanks to excellent netcode. It's one of only a handful of fighting games where my enjoyment of the online portion of the game hasn't been impeded by lag. Not to mention it also wins me over in terms of the modes available. Where most fighting games would throw in an option for casual and ranked matches, Generations ups the ante by also including four and eight-player tournaments (in addition to the insufferable survival and tournament modes that you can play offline).
There's no question that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is a niche title. It's aimed almost exclusively at existing Naruto fans, with barely an attempt to appeal to non-fans (or even to ease them into Naruto's crazy world). This is a shame, because Generations is a beautiful and surprisingly competent 3D fighting game. It may have its fair share of shortcomings, but as a total package, there's very little to fault here. The only real issue is if you already own Ninja Storm 2, do you even need Generations?
- Breathtakingly beautiful
- Fluid animation and impressive fight sequences
- Unlockable content galore
- Stable netcode and addictive online play
- It's a niche title
- Stripped down story mode
- Only a slight upgrade from the previous game