The obtusely titled Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is the latest in a subseries of cartoonish fighting games that mimic the action of the long-running Naruto anime show. It is a game of one-on-one battles taking place in large open arenas, allowing freedom of movement independent of your opponent; these battles are incredibly kinetic and typically involve clashes from end to arena end, and in the air, before one of the fighters is defeated.
I should preface this with the admission that I am not well versed in the Naruto universe. It is with some apprehension that I make this pseudo-sequel with an extended six-word title my entry point to the series. It turns out to be a non-issue however, not just because narrative is inherently of little consequence to a straight fighting game, but because the story mode here is keen to offer up a comprehensive rundown of the series history anyway.
The story mode is a retelling of the Naruto series through anime video sequences and narrated stills, interspersed with battles using pre-selected characters relevant to the plot; something akin to an arcade style gauntlet of battles, just with rotating characters chosen for the player. As you progress, the odds are increasingly tipped in favour of your opponents as they are granted bonuses to attack power. When things become too tough, it is possible to accept a reduction in difficulty, but only after you lose a fight three times. I eventually learned to abandon the controls for the first few attempts to save myself the effort.
Alternatively there is the versus mode which is where you can battle the computer or another player with your own set of conditions and choice from a roster of more than 70 characters (most are locked out to begin with). Fans should be able to find their favourites, although character choice is purely one of aesthetics as every character has the same play style and button combinations. Likewise, stage selection is but window dressing; every stage is a large expanse of even ground without obstacles.
Face buttons are used for jumping, attacking, throwing a weak projectile, and a Chakra move which upgrades the effectiveness of any of the other three actions at a cost of some Chakra bar. Holding the Chakra button will recharge it at the expense of making you vulnerable and immobile for a brief moment. Projectiles can be used to disrupt this process from a distance. The attack button is the damage dealer and should be bashed repeatedly to dial up a ready-made combo.
Once caught in a combo, the only escape is an evasive manoeuvre called a substitution which itself is rationed by its own 4-segment life bar. When this is depleted, you are forced to sit and watch combos to their conclusion as your opponent tallies up 20 free hits on you. The key then is to avoid being on the receiving end of these attacks at all cost, through evasive running and jumping, and to force the opponent to use their substitutions before you do. None of this is effectively communicated since there is no tutorial. At least a key to the buttons and combinations can be found by pausing the action; the rest must be learned through experimentation.
Rounds last considerably longer than say a Tekken or Street Fighter fight, and the very fast pace combined with a need to repeatedly hit the same key buttons can take a physical toll on the player. It is very dissatisfying to feel exhausted and to have developed a strain injury in the wrists, only to lose the battle. This isn’t a fun game to lose at, especially when handicapped against an unreasonable computer opponent preventing your story progression. As ever, the best fun to be had from this or any fighting game is against human players of similar ability.
The aesthetics are the real highlight of the package, such is this game’s authenticity when placed against Naruto in other forms of media. The real-time graphics would look like an interactive anime were it not for edges spoiled by aliasing. Certain characters’ attack animations evoked laughter during our play test at the office, a highlight being the giant manifestation of young Sakura’s raging inner-self uppercutting her opponent into the sky.
Enjoyment is sure to increase for fans of the anime and manga, with play time extended by way of bonuses like character images and movies which are regularly unlocked or available to purchase with in-game currency, though the core game itself may be a case of having a lot of content with less focus on substance.