Where Naruto has excelled over the course of its more than decade long existence to date is combining the wonders and excitement of a well established fantasy world with the underdog tale of an outsider. Following young Uzumaki’s rise from incessantly frustrating misfit to saviour of the Hidden Leaf village was powerful and engrossing, whether witnessed via the series’ manga, anime or videogames – or perhaps a combination of the three. Being one of the most popular Japanese franchises now, Naruto is well-versed and renowned across the globe and although it may still remain somewhat niche, it’s reached tens, if not hundreds, of millions of fans worldwide to date.
Having gone on from strength-to-strength in the previous few outings on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, where developer CyberConnect2 would take the franchise next was always going to be interesting – given that they’d caught up on most of the story with the last two releases. Enter Generations, or Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations if you prefer to flaunt your word count – “the best past and present fan-favourites” all under a single roof. My curiosity peaked at the thought of how the Japanese studio would incorporate the beautifully presented and executed story mode from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. Alas, they didn’t. Instead it’s been replaced with a series of battles more akin to the generic single-player modes that masquerade as story modes in most other fighters.
There are ten individual story paths to go on, each cherry picking the best fights from that particular characters route through the plot of Naruto. Small pieces of the overarching storyline are filled in-between battles, with all-new animated content dotted about here and there, but unless you’re a fan of the series, you’ll struggle to follow what happens. Trying to squeeze the highlights of more than ten years of manga into thirty minutes or so of storytelling was always going to be disjointed. Therefore, the core story portion of Generations is much more a tribute to the fans, than something just anybody can really get stuck into. There’s also a distinct feeling, early on at least, that you’re just replaying a lot of the content from the previous two Shippuden titles. This does ease up towards the end of each story arc, and more so with the latter paths entirely as the story surpasses the end point of Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, but it’s a shame nonetheless.
“Graphical beauty has been synonymous with the recent Naruto games and that’s certainly not changed.”
Otherwise, Generations maintains the tremendous array of features that has seen the videogames rise to such great heights. The roster has never been so expansive, featuring a hugely impressive 70 playable characters, which not only spans both the good and villainous characters, but also across the generations – hence the name. So players can partake in battles between the original Naruto and Shippuden Naruto if they so wish. It’s comfortably not only the most impressive roster in the series, but perhaps across the fighter genre.
The same can be said for the fighting mechanics; very much a case of iteration rather than any drastic redesign, a new substitution system adds a brilliant tactical edge for fighters to implement amid fast and frantic battles. Rather than having to time your blocks to perfection, there’s now a substitution dodge that will get you out of most tight situations. There’s a catch though, you have a limited amount to use before you have to wait for them to recharge, so go substitution happy too soon, and you’ll find yourself defenceless to a series of potentially devastating attacks. Being able to cancel your combos to introduce chakra-powered attacks also helps to spice up gameplay even further and can result in some brilliant custom crafted combos.
Graphical beauty has been synonymous with the recent Naruto games and that’s certainly not changed. Generations is as visually stunning as those that lay before it, possibly managing to outdo them, albeit fractionally. The ninjutsu attacks are breath-taking at times and the animations are silky smooth once again. Unfortunately, there are occasional issues where the framerate drops that does have a detrimental impact of gameplay, something that was never present in past iterations. Environments are gorgeous and fans will fall head-over-heels for the detailed authenticity that oozes out of the game at all times.
Outside of the story mode, free battle is the standard setting for battles against the computer or other locally-based friends. What is most impressive though was the expansion of game modes on top of the usual versus mode, with: Survival – survive with a single bar of health for as many fights as you can; Tournament – which also allows up to eight human players to take it in turns in one-on-one matches; and Training so you can hone your skills.
Online has also seen a small overhaul to include ranked matches and the ability to share your best battle videos, as well as beginner arenas and custom matches for those who need a bit of an easier ride. Not that you’ll find one though, as, even in the beginners section, competition is fierce and will send your ego crashing to the ground at a moments notice. Thankfully though, there isn’t even a sniff of lag and with the ability to earn, buy and exchange emblems and Ninja Info Cards, it’s an area of the game that will keep the invested occupied for some time.
The addition of the Collectible Card Compatibility sounds like a fantastic new feature, but due to its lack of release in Europe it was not something that was reviewable. Generations biggest disappointment is that it has dropped the stellar campaign from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, which also isn’t helped by the lingering feeling that you’ll have been told some of the stories and played multiple sections at least once already.
Otherwise, the small tweaks to the combat, huge expansion of the roster, stunning visual appearance and thoroughly enjoyable battles are more than enough to ensure this is another great addition to the Naruto-verse. Ample collectibles, items purchasable in the in-game shop, brand-new anime sequences, a nostalgic soundtrack, improved online and local modes, and casual yet complex fighting system all help the cause. Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations brings all the excitement that you’d expect from a Naruto game, but fails to quite tell the tremendous tale as well as hoped. It may not quite take Naruto to the next level, but it’s comfortably keeping him at a Kage-challenging level.