I will preface this review by stating that I am a fan of the Naruto series, and also the Ultimate Ninja Storm titles. If you don’t know your Rasengans from your Rinnegans yet, you may struggle to get up to speed with this game. As the continuation of a series retelling the story of the Naruto and Naruto Shippuden manga and anime, it takes no time before getting straight into where Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 left off.
The Fourth Great Ninja War has begun, and the five countries have joined together to fight against Madara, who plans to send the entire world into a dream state, controlled by him, where he will rule with absolute power. Despite being one of the most powerful ninja ever known, Naruto cannot succeed on his own, and will need all of his friends with him. But there’s one friend he needs by his side more than any… his childhood partner, Sasuke.
Story Mode takes you through the many battles that make up the final arcs of Naruto Shippuden, in which the Allied Shinobi Forces repeatedly face both Tobi and Madara. Your control is not limited to Naruto, as you fight as multiple characters throughout the chapters. Rather than following a linear chronology like previous entries, the chapters are split between Naruto fighting the war and Sasuke’s encounters with Orochimaru along branching paths, allowing you to switch between as you like. There are occasional side episodes but they don’t have to be completed for progression, instead serving to flesh out certain events such as the clash between Madara and Hashirama, and Tobi and Minato.
Anyone familiar with the Ultimate Ninja Storm games will remember the pace-breaking sections that asked you to run from point A to point B between each fight to advance the story. These are missing from the Story Mode, though it has more to do with the majority of Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 taking place in the same location. A separate Adventure mode holds everything that initially seemed to be missing. To be played after completion of Story Mode, it lets you explore the Naruto world and complete missions for Naruto’s various friends and allies.
Adventure Mode also makes Ultimate Ninja Storm the most complete Naruto game to date. Memory Fragments are scattered across the different areas; these are battles from earlier in the story and range from the very first episodes of Naruto and all the way up to the end of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: the Chunin exams, Sasuke leaving to face his brother, the Pain arc, and the encounters with the Four Kage. As a fan, I loved being able to relive those classic moments, but there isn’t a clear way to play them in order, and many are without their context.
Between fights, what used to be static, in-engine rendered scenes with text boxes have been replaced with adapted stills of the anime and spoken dialogue, bringing the anime and the game closer together than ever before. The fully animated scenes produced by CyberConnect2 look amazing, with the original 2D art style transforming into 3D without losing any detail. The Interactive Action sections in particular can be stunning, as fists and Jutsus clash behind quick time events.
For combat, greater care has been paid to each ninja’s animations as they dash about the arena. The bump from 30fps to 60fps also helps with this, as the finer details of the animations become visible. Working with the new gen consoles has allowed them to go wild with spectacle, but occasionally the number of particle effects on screen can detract from the full image -- something I’m sure many will notice in the first fight of Story Mode.
The biggest addition to the combat is the ability to change which lead character you are using during the fight. In previous titles, you would choose which character you wanted to control and two to support, and you could then use one of their attacks during battle. Now, with a flick of the right stick, you can switch to one of your support characters. This can be used in multiple strategic ways, such as switching to a character with longer range if low on health or if your opponent is trying to stay out of reach, or can be used to switch mid-combo to continue your attack. Combining that second tactic with Chakra Dash Cancels has made this one of the most enjoyable fighting games I’ve ever played.
With that, I must point out that this is not a hardcore fighter. As Naruto has an audience largely made up of children and young adults, it makes sense to make the licensed game as accessible as possible. Melee attacks and ranged attacks are limited to one button each, with the other two dedicated to adapting your movement and the use of chakra. The controls are easy to grasp, but there is something of a depth to find in the combat, and there are some characters that require a skill that I, a long time fan of the series, don’t possess. New players will have no trouble pulling off the flashiest of moves, but a higher level of play is rewarding, and is worth pursuing.
Characters are no longer categorised into Ultimate Jutsu, Awakening and Drive users, instead returning to the original design from before 2014’s Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution. Each character can use a Secret Technique, the new name of Ultimate Jutsus, and most can Awaken after dropping to low health. Carried over from Revolution are the Combination Jutsus, available after building the Support Gauge to its maximum. These function in the same way as before, allowing certain team compositions to use special attacks that don’t deal additional damage but reflect the relationships the characters involved share.
The Mob Fight mode has been improved to include even larger groups than seen previously, with enemies sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Controlling Gamakichi and facing literally thousands of Zetsus towards the end of the story is a highlight narratively, but suffers from massive drops in framerate. Luckily, I never encountered similar performance issues in one-on-one or team fights, though aliasing can be a recurring irritant and spoils what could be a beautiful game.
The experience when playing online suffers for those with poor internet connections like me, but when playing with friends in local multiplayer, the game has no issues. A variety of modes return from previous Ultimate Ninja Storms: one-on-one Ranked and Player, Tournament and League, and the winner-stays-on style Endless battles. Choosing not to build on its multiplayer component, I sadly don’t see this being the Naruto game that becomes an e-sport phenomenon.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 brings together the characters, the story arcs, and the heart that made the original anime so captivating. A casual fighter that puts fun before difficulty, and tries to be approachable rather than technical. While not an ideal starting point for someone new to Naruto, I don’t doubt it will be loved by long time fans. The Ultimate Ninja Storm series has reached a new height, and it makes for a fitting finale to the series.
NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: Ultimate Ninja STORM 4 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Tying up the final chapters of the Shippuden story in a fun and flashy fashion, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 really is the ultimate Naruto game. Every character, and every battle, is present in some form. The peak of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series.