Publishers: Namco Bandai
I had to do a considerable amount of background research on Naruto before I even attempted to write this review. That’s instantly a positive nod for the people this game was intended for, but to the average Joe looking for a new beat’em’up, that’s an instant turn off. With that in mind, here’s a quick primer to get you up to speed.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 takes place during the fourth ninja war, a conflict that’s still raging in the originating anime and manga. As the titular Naruto, a young but powerful ninja from a clan that seems obsessed with incredibly unstealthy orange jumpsuits, you’ll be playing a core part in this conflict until the non-canon ending. For those unfamiliar with the series, Naruto falls into that ultra-Westernized category, the kind of anime that gleefully fulfills every single innocent trope, laced with adorable naivete. It’s the kind of series that reinforces the “Those wacky Japanese” trope. It’s a bit like Pokèmon, really, without the awkward pit-fighting undertones.
Obviously, this game is all about the combat, and that’s the one aspect of Naruto that really shines - to the point that it exposes some ugly flaws in the rest of the content. Fresh out of fighting a giant evil Nine-Tailed Fox spirit with an assembly of ninja badasses, you’ll be sat down to watch a frankly static and staggered storyline unfold for half an hour. It’s stereotypical anime posturing and angst - I can think of several occasions where the story took twice as long to talk about two characters fighting as the fight itself.
From a narrative point of view, it’s clumsy, shoddily paced, and enough to make non-Naruto fans skip the campaign entirely. When you’re not watching dialogue or fighting, you’ll be running around towns, running errands and buying items, and it all just feels like so much unnecessary fluff around the edges of the solid combat system. The story judders from epic highlights to mind numbing repetition, The word ‘padding’ comes to mind. For a game that depends so heavily on the world it draws inspiration on, it’s almost criminal not to include some sort of database to get new players up to speed. Even a cheesy “Last time on Naruto!” feature would be preferable to throwing you in blind. Thankfully, the series-faithful combat is a real highlight, and more than enjoyable enough to keep you stomaching the story when it dawdles.
Combat is three dimensional and frantic, with each character using projectiles, throws and some impressively over the top jutsu moves to overcome opponents. It’s not necessarily complicated, but there’s a deep list of potential move combinations to explore, admirably walking the fine line between complexity and playability. It’s entirely possible to gain or lose the advantage on a moment’s notice, as the foe you’ve been pounding on for the last five minutes suddenly pulls a surprise rasengan out of nowhere and blows you halfway across the map. Moments like these embed the game in your head where every other aspect falls a little flat, and it’s even more satisfying if you’re fighting a friend in the game’s versus mode - nothing says “in your face” quite like a giant ball of chakra energy.
Overall, it’s a satisfying game - it’s just a shame that the stunning fights become stuttered and spread out in the horribly presented campaign mode. The campaign’s strong start quickly dwindles to a faint memory as you’re reduced to scrolling through dialogue and watching the aforementioned ninja badasses standing around talking about fighting. The pacing is comparable to finding little bits of chocolate in a road grit sandwich - brief but stellar highlights in an otherwise painful and pointless exercise. It presents no real alternative to experiencing the story of the Fourth Ninja War, and it’d probably be a lot more enjoyable and efficient to just watch the anime instead. Buy Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 for the incredible one on one fights and massive potential for multiplayer enjoyment. Don’t buy it for the campaign mode, or you’ll be sorely disappointed.
- Visuals are incredibly faithful to the series
- Fighting is deep, satisfying, and flashy
- Huge roster of characters and variants from which to choose
- Exclusive plot that offers no background information
- Progress through the story mode feels middling and staggered
- Gameplay outside of combat is rudimentary and outdated
The Short Version: Great for veterans, awful for newbies. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 offers some very satisfying combat but pads it out with bland exploration and hours of clichè anime storytelling. It’s incredibly faithful to the series in terms of the gorgeous visuals and movesets but the non-canon story conclusion might be just enough to put Naruto diehards off of this series entry. Franchise aside, it’s a just above average fighting game with some solid mechanics worth taking a look at - but maybe when the price tag isn’t so high.