In 2014, Naruto ended its successful 15-year run. But games? Those are going to keep coming as long as we all still love the blonde-haired ninja and his demon fox companion. Good for us, too: this new Naruto is easily the most comprehensive game yet.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is the first Naruto game released since the series ended. While the anime has yet to catch up, two post-ending movies have been released along with a series of light novels and a manga mini-series. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 goes as far as the second movie, starring Naruto’s first-born son, Boruto.
The story picks up where Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 left off, in the middle of The Fourth Great Ninja War. Over the series’ history, this is a relatively small portion of the tale, but a lot happens in that time period, so there’s a lot of playable content.
UNS4 breaks its story into chapters, each of which consists of multiple cutscenes and battles. Many of the chapters have branching storylines, which will tell a different character’s story as it’s happening concurrent to the events of the main branch. The vast majority of the story mode content focuses on Naruto and Sasuke, but they’re who most folks will be coming to the game for, anyway.
CyberConnect2 put an incredible level of care into recreating some of Naruto’s penultimate scenes. In earlier scenes that have already been covered by the anime, stills from the show play with voiceover in the background. Later scenes are done via the in-game engine and are incredibly well done. The final fight, however, is what makes this game worth while. I won’t spoil it here, as anime-only Naruto fans might not yet know how it ends, but it’s an incredible, gut-wrenching scene and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 captures it perfectly. In fact, UNS4’s storytelling is unrivaled in the fighting genre.
Since its original 2008 release, the Ultimate Ninja Storm series has been one of the prettiest cel-shaded series around. UNS4 is the first entry in the series built for current-generation hardware, and it shows. Watching characters battle it out is like watching an episode of the anime come to life, especially when the fights are happening on a grand scale. I mean, just look at this:
The PC build I played was locked at 30 frames per second, but didn’t feel at all sluggish. No matter how many particle effects, explosions, tornadoes or what have you was appearing on screen, performance remained solid. Characters’ facial expressions and movements feel as though they’re ripped straight from the source material, too. At times, when a scene would open, I would swear I was watching an episode, rather than playing a game.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s roster is impressive. There are a number of versions of the main characters, as Kotaku’s Mike Fahey pointed out, but each one plays differently enough from the other variants to warrant a new version.
Every major era in Naruto is well represented in the roster as well. You can play important characters like the first Hokage and his rival Uchiha Madara all the way to a more grown-up version of Naruto from The Last: Naruto the Movie. Most main-line story characters are here as well (sorry Naruto filler fans, you’ll find no joy here), with minor characters like Temari and Kankuro still receiving multiple versions.
Truthfully, I haven’t yet unlocked all the characters available, but the sheer number of options available is staggering, if not a bit intimidating. For each individual tile on the screen, there can be a number of variations of that specific version of the character, along with a couple of jutsu selections to make the range even more diverse. You can even customize each character in the roster in some ways to make them better fit your strategy. There’s an exhaustive amount of characters to try and team combinations to learn; odds are you’ll probably find a favorite long before you work your way through the whole list.
There’s flash, and then there’s flash. If you know Naruto, you’re no doubt familiar with the scale of the techniques its characters can pull off, particularly in the later half of the series. What used to be a series about simple ninja tricks and techniques slowly evolved into something more closely resembling Dragon Ball Z. Attacks often happen on a near-planetary scale, with some even being visible from space.
In this respect, the latest Naruto game does not disappoint. The game’s opens on a kaiju-style battle between an Uchiha Madara-controlled Kyuubi and a wood golem created by the First Hokage. From there, things only get crazier. Every huge demon or chakra monster is part of the action and can pull of some truly crazy attacks. Each character has a few different secret techniques they can use, including some team combos. CC2 did a great job including a number of different team attacks; some seen in the manga, and some original to the game as well. If you feel a team should work together, they often do, and to great effect. Fortunately, unlike pervious entries in the franchise, UNS4’s secret techniques don’t feel overpowered, and aren’t one-hit match enders.
Adventure Mode is something of a series staple in the Ultimate Ninja Storm franchise. There’s a lot to do in this iteration, but it feels somewhat soulless. You’ll start off as Naruto, teamed up with Hinata and Sakura. The goal is to tell the story between the ending of the manga and the movie The Last: Naruto the Movie.
The overarching plot is about getting Naruto to recognize Hinata’s feelings toward him, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that the endgame here is kind of pointless. Instead, the plot serves as fuel to get you to explore the various countries that are part of Naruto’s world. Each map feels expansive, but none of them have all that much to do.
Littered throughout each area are crystals, each of which contains a memory that take you back to a key event in the Naruto universe. These missions are presented with little story context, and no cutscenes or intros, so their value is limited. The point of this mode instead seems to be to give you more to do, which is fine, but it could be presented better.
Unfortunately, traveling through Konohagaure or any of the other iconic villages is limited to a jog. With maps the size of those on offer in UNS4, that means you can spend quite a bit of time getting from one location to the next, even if you get to fast travel between villages. Adventure Mode would do well to borrow a bit from earlier games in the franchise and let Naruto leap between buildings, run at full speed, and carry a bit more engaging of a story, similar to story mode.
Holy crap, is there a lot of stuff to unlock in Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. There seems to be about a zillion things you can buy in the in-game shop. In-game items are bought both with Ryo, the currency of the Naruto universe, and with treasures. Doing just about any task in the game nets you some of these treasures, so it shouldn’t be at all difficult to save up for what you want.
Unlockable stuff ranges from characters to customizations for existing characters (personally, I’m a big fan of the stuffed Kurama) to backgrounds and pictures for your Ninja Info Card, which will be how you’re identified to other players in online matches. You could probably spend forever just getting stuff in this game. The bad part? Most of it feels like useless crap.
If you’re familiar with the series, you know that Naruto’s boss battles are no joke. If it’s a boss, it’s some kind of ridiculously huge monster, usually with a number of crazy attacks. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s boss battles are no different, but they feel a bit simpler than previous iterations.
Interestingly, CC2 decided on shooter-like mechanics similar to Panzer Dragoon for many of the bosses. Usually you’ll have to lock on and fire homing energy blasts at a number of targets located on the boss’ body. The first time you do it, it’s cool, but by the third time, the mechanic feels a little stale. Perhaps most importantly—and I can’t believe I’m saying this, really—I really, really wanted these boss fights to have some QTEs in them. The flashiness of the story battles is what really makes this game sing in the single-player department, and for the game’s biggest fights, they’re noticeably absent. That’s not to say that they’re gone entirely, but there are far fewer of them than I’d like, especially compared to how many occur in on-the-ground, no-bullshit, one-on-one fights. The boss fights, while fun, lack some of the shock-and-awe factor that the normal fights possess.
Every online match I’ve ever played in any Ultimate Ninja Storm title has been uniformly terrible. They’re all laggy, funless affairs, and that makes me sad, as the Naruto games are some of the best local multiplayer I’ve played in fighting games.
The menus leading up to fight are fine, and finding matches isn’t at all difficult, but even on the best of connections, I’ve been unable to find a match I would deem playable, and this has been going on for years. I’ve accepted that Naruto games must not be meant to be played online or truly enjoyed in this way, but every time a new one comes out, I still hold out hope, only to be disappointed yet again.
This latest Naruto game doesn’t do too many new things, but as roster updates go, it’s massive. There’s over 100 ninja to try out, a decent sized story mode and an adventure mode, that while lacking, is still entertaining nonetheless. As always, CyberConnect2 has done an excellent job capturing the look and feel of the anime.
If you’re a fan of Naruto, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a no-brainer. If you aren’t, it’s still worth checking out. The 3-on-3 battles are fast-paced and entertaining, and if you like the anime aesthetic, this game is gorgeous. Laggy online play holds Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 back somewhat, but it’s still a very worthwhile play, even if you’re not 100 percent sold on Kishimoto’s ninja tale.