I’m not even supposed to be writing this preview of Naruto X Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections. I told CyberConnect2 producer Masaya Yoshizawa that if he didn’t beat me in our demo match at Summer Game Fest I wouldn’t cover the game. I didn’t want him to go easy on me, an admitted Naruto novice and newcomer to the long-running anime-based arena fighter series, in the hope that not getting my ass kicked might make me like the game more. Nonetheless, he let me narrowly beat him with perfect precision two rounds in a row, and I ended up having such a good time that I’m going to tell you about it anyway.
Coming to PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC, Naruto X Boruto is a 3D fighting game about landing combos to power up transformation meters that continues the tradition of the prior Ultimate Ninja Storm games. It’s also a celebration of the Shōnen manga series by Masashi Kishimoto about a hyperactive knucklehead training to become the head ninja of his village. Its anime adaptation, which just marked its 20th anniversary, became a defining show for a generation of kids in the late 2000s.
I’ve heard of Naruto, but who is Boruto?
“Now that Naruto Uzumaki, the leaf village’s number one knuckle-headed ninja, has effectively finished his journey to become the hokage (ninja president) doesn’t mean that he and his generation of ninjas are living a conflict-free life. Chief among the leaf village’s new concerns are rearing the next generation of ninjas following the climax of the great ninja war. Leading the charge of the next generation of ninjas is Boruto, Naruto’s equally hard-headed son. Much like his father, Boruto has a lot to prove not only as the new main character in the sequel series to one of Shonen Jump’s most popular titles, but as the hokage’s first-born child. Luckily, the kid’s got moxy just like his old man and he’s got a great mentor in Naruto’s bestie, Sasuke Uchiha.” — Isaiah Colbert
There have been six Ultimate Ninja Storm games dating back to 2008, but Naruto X Boruto is aiming to be the definitive sequel. The roster promises over 100 characters, including all previous fighters in the series as well as entirely new additions like Ashura and Indra Ōtsutsuki, Kawaki, Jigen, and Boruto’s Karma form. Much of the fighting itself revolves around trading blows and filling up gauges that let you automatically dodge an incoming attack or unleash an ultimate attack. Will all of it be balanced? The development team is trying, but seems focused more on making sure each fighter is, first and foremost, fun to use.
“We prioritize the uniqueness of the characters and their abilities versus the game balance,” Yoshizawa told me, speaking through a translator. “But It doesn’t mean we don’t think about game balance, which is also important.” He said that doesn’t mean canonically weaker characters will be at a disadvantage, while adding that the team still wanted to try and respect the spirit of the original work.
One welcome feature giving Naruto novices like me a leg up is a new optional control scheme that simplifies inputs for powerful attacks. Similar to Street Fighter 6’s optional “Dynamic” and “Modern” control schemes, it lets you immediately start having fun rather than wait until you’ve climbed a learning curve of input recognition and muscle memory. Pulling of Ninjutsu attacks with ease let me focus on more tactical things like positioning, blocking, and countering instead. The simplified controls helped me beat Yoshizawa after all, who when asked claimed to be the best Naruto X Baruto player on staff at the company.
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But aside from competitive play, Naruto X Boruto is as much about the single-player story arcs anthologizing the most pivotal moments across both series. I didn’t get a chance to see those in action during my hands-on time, but graphically at least, the game is pretty enough to look at, and the in-match transformations and scripted attack cinematics got me hyped. My only real criticism of the moment-to-moment gameplay is that targeting my opponent in a large open 3D space occasionally felt finicky and left me punching the air.
I went into the demo expecting Naruto X Baruto to feel impenetrable, and instead came out wanting to immediately educate myself on 20 years of epic fights, teen ninja angst, and off-the-rails filler. Some of its mechanical overlap with the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi series also helped scratch that itch while I wait for Bandai Namco’s other anime fighter to get its long-awaited sequel. Naruto X Baruto is set to arrive sometime before the end of 2023.
Kotaku is covering everything Summer Game Fest, from the main show on Thursday to other events happening throughout the next week. Whether you’re into larger-than-life triple-A games or intimate, offbeat indies, you can keep up with all things SGF here.