When dealing with a video game that is based off an anime, fans are expecting it to have at least two things: does it follow the main storyline of the series and does it have many of the key characters from the series? The short answer: yes, this game has it. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is the game that the Naruto fans have been clamoring for.
The first thing about this game that stands out is the graphics and they look phenomenal. The cell-shaded graphics are a good choice of art style for the game and the characters always seem to have a glow to them when they are on screen and these are greatly emphasized when you see the character animations. Combat looks flawless and the camera does not hinder the action at any point during these events. Most importantly each character's jutsu techniques are done with incredible detail and the Ultimate Jutsu Techniques are the icing on the cake. If you can land one of these bad boys, then you are about to experience a cinematic treat. They look incredibly over the top, amazingly stylized and does not drop a single framrate when they are utilized.
As for story, if you are a watcher of the series or reader of the manga, then this will seem all too familiar. The game starts like the opening of the series; the Fourth Hokage sacrificing his life when battling the Nine-Tailed Beast in order to save the Hidden Leaf Village. After that, we cut to Naruto eating a bowl of ramen with his old teacher Iruka about to start his life as a new Genin of the village. After that, the main progression of the game goes all the way to the end of the Part I of the manga, with Sasuke leaving the village to join Orochimaru. The only missing main storyline was Team 7 (Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura and Kakashi) traveling to Wave Country and their run-ins with Haku and Zabuza. While it's a shame that they weren't included in the game, it feels more like water under the bridge with everything else this game has to offer.
This game is more than just a mere fighting game. The addition of mini-games breaks up the action in an impressive format. Also, with these games, it adds more detail to the Naruto's story such as his training with Kakashi. Such a mini game is the tree-climbing exercise. In this scenario, Naruto must get to the top of a really tall tree before time runs out and must avoid branches along the way. You can collect items along the way to help to get their faster such as scrolls that activate the Substitution Jutsu when you run into a branch or a speed boost that makes you run faster. The event is fast-paced and challenges the reflexes. It also becomes more intense when having to race against computer opponents and avoid their jutsu techniques trying to slow you down. Another mini-game is the standard form of traveling for the ninja of this series: Tree jumping. Players must move side to side avoiding tree branches and sometimes even traps left by enemies to slow you down. These missions can become increasingly difficult when it also becomes necessary to catch the target. A fast button prompt will flash and you will have a small window to act. It also shows that detail was given to these missions as well when you are propelled over the tree line and can see a lush forest in front of you. These things were overlooked in some the Naruto games and it's nice to know that they aren't forgotten. It shows that the developers paid close attention to the storyline and even decided to include some of the training aspects of Naruto.
The combat is the best of the Ultimate Ninja series. The other games relied more on item collecting to get the upper hand of opponents. It made the games seem more like a Super Smash Brothers game rather that an actual fighting game. Now, combat takes center stage and random item drops don't even happen. It was a good thing for developer CyberConnect2 to lose this feature. Running around grabbing items to use and just throw at people diluted the action of a fighting game. The action depicted in each of the fights is fast paced and fluid in every form. Movement is fast and does not have a sluggish feeling to it. It almost becomes a challenge to see how many hits you can chain together before the combo ends.
There are also more than just the standard one-on-one battles. There are also boss battles that have characters fighting giant summoned beast. These are a mix of hitting them in weak spots and quick-time events. These things are another animation delight to play. These battles are some of the most fast-paced quick-time events I have ever experienced. The animations with these are incredible and fun to watch. It feels like you are actually interacting with an episode.
The controls are easy to use. The main attacks are used with the circle button while charging chakra is regulated to the triangle button. With attacks, movement of the control stick and prolonged attack combos can also change how a move will end. For example if you are fighting on the ground and tilt the control stick up, the attacker will start to punch and kick the opponent upwards and can lead up to beginning an aerial combo. It's easy to use, but still interesting to see how a combo chain will end and at no points gets repetitive or boring.
To break up all the missions and such, the game also includes a hub world of the Hidden Leaf Village. This is a remarkable recreation of the village and has all of the famous places fans know such as the Ichiraku Ramen Bar, Hokage building and even the mountain side with the previous Hokages for a backdrop. The hub world is greatly put together and also includes a lot of shops and item collecting challenges to take you out of the fast paced action, but still seem relevant and productive. And collecting items and such is worth it. You can purchase things such as figures, movies of Ultimate Jutsu techniques and music from stages. There is even an option where these can be combined to re-create dioramas of famous scenes from the series such as Sakura's fight with Ino or Naruto and Sasuke's climatic clash of their Rasengan and Chidori.
Perhaps a down side of the game is that some of the fights seem to not follow the canon of the storyline. Such as having to control Rock Lee while fighting Gaara in the Chuunin Prelim fights and winning even though he loses the fight in the series. It would have been easy just to control Gaara, but it seems the game doesn't want you controlling bad guys. Also there are some glitches with the sound when you win the fight with an Ultimate Jutsu, but they don't happen all the time.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is the definitive Naruto game. The art-style is amazing, the combat is impressive and everything is put together in a nicely done fashion. It almost makes you wish the entire anime series looked like this. Aside from the occasional sound glitch and a few loading screens, the game is firing on all cylinders. If you are a hardcore fan of the series, you must buy this game. If you have never heard of Naruto, then this is a great game to get and get caught up on it thanks to most of the main story being in the game and the combat system makes it stand out from cookie cutter fighting games.