Sure, you've weathered plenty of ninja storms in your day, but are you prepared to face the Ultimate Ninja Storm... 2?
Developer CyberConnect2 has been telling the story of the absurdly popular Japanese martial arts anime Naruto through the Ninja Storm series since 2003. Part adventure game and part fighting game, each successive title fleshes out more of the show's plot, expanding with new features and introducing new characters with each new installment. Traditionally a PlayStation 2 franchise, in 2008 it came to the PlayStation 3 with Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, a gorgeous title strong on style but short on substance. Now the Ultimate Ninja Storm returns with a vengeance, branching out onto the Xbox 360 and incorporating the anime's Shippuden storyline, featuring an older, wiser, and more powerful Naruto Uzumaki. Has Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 matured as well as its inspiration?
Fans of the anime program of course, but also fighting fans looking for a little more adventure in their lives, and adventure fans craving some arena combat.
Why You Should Care
CyberConnect2 blurred the line between anime and video game in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm for the PlayStation 3, though it was a little light on content. Now the developer takes a second stab at current gen systems, with a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 sequel that promises a ton of content and introduces online multiplayer to the series.
Let's get straight to the point: Is Ultimate Storm 2 better than Ultimate Storm the first? That's a definite yes. With the stronger, more dramatic Shippuden storyline behind the game, a much larger cast of of characters (45 to the first game's 25), and a wide variety of side quests and activities to perform, Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is far superior to its predecessor, while maintaining the same simplistic combat system that fans have come to know and love. The story covers more ground, taking us from Naruto's return to Hidden Leaf after years of training to his final showdown with Akatsuki leader Pain. Loading times have lessened significantly. Even the first game's exquisite cel-shaded graphics have improved, further blurring the line between hand-drawn and computer generated graphics. The button press-powered boss battle cinematics have to be seen to be believed.
So everything is better then? Not quite. In the course of fixing the issues I had with the original title, CyberConnect2 took away one of my favorite features of that game. The free-roaming exploration of a fully 3D Hidden Leaf Village has been replaced with the sort of static scenes you'd see in a classic adventure tale. Instead of leaping across rooftops in order to reach your objective, I'm running back and forth through dioramas. With a single-player campaign that's lasted me more than twelve hours at this point, I'm beginning to grow weary of the repetition, longing for the freedom the first game afforded.
So that's a game breaker for you? Oh, far from it. It's an annoyance and a questionable omission, but far from a game breaker. The free roaming might be gone, but I can still lose myself for hours scouring the maps for ingredients to create new weapons and power-up items, taking out rampaging doll versions of my best friends and biggest enemies, or going online to have the stuffing beat out of me.
Oh yeah, this one is online, isn't it? Having gotten my ass kicked by people from all around the country, I can assure you that the fighting is definitely online, and there are plenty of challengers waiting to show you just how much Ultimate Ninja skill you do or do not possess. With a solid ping the action is lightning fast, even when both sides pull in both of their teammates to gang up on their opponents. You'll see the odd spinning timer (see the gallery below) with a less-than-ideal connection, but it doesn't take away too much from the action. It's amazing the strategies players can formulate in a game with such simplistic fighting controls.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 In Action
The Bottom Line
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm showed great promise, and much of that promise is realized in the sequel. While the strange decision on the developer's part to remove the first game's free-roaming keeps true greatness just beyond reach, in its best moments Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja 2 makes me feel like I'm actively controlling an animated movie, and that's exactly what the series is all about.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 was developed by CyberConnect2 and published by Namco Bandai for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, released on October 19. Retails for $59.99. Purchased an Xbox 360 copy of the game with my own funds for enjoyment and reviewing. Played through entire story mode, completing various side quests, unlocking new shop items, and spending my earned money on silly player cards. Played multiple matches online, losing to young teens consistently.