Publishers: Namco Bandai
The Ultimate Ninja Storm series is arguably too good at capturing the spirit of Naruto Shippuden's long-running anime.
Superbly choreographed and memorable battles are bookended by countless hours of grinding exposition, usually involving two angsty youngsters growling intense monologue at each other for what feels like an eternity. All while the tone teeters uncomfortably between lighthearted fun and gritty emotional outpouring, as characters schizophrenically transform from happy-go-lucky kids into depressive angst merchants like flicking a light switch. There's a lot to love once the shuriken start flying (along with corpse puppets... and animated wood... and crazy magical eyeballs...), but you've got to put up with an awful lot of bumf to get to the good stuff.
I could equally be describing the anime or the games, and the clumsily-titled Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: Full Burst is no exception. The enormous campaign delivers a blow-by-blow playable recap of the Fourth Ninja War story arc featuring intense one-on-one battles, which in turn unlocks characters to use in freeplay. As always, the fighting mechanics are a cut above what you'd expect from a licensed tie in, but only hardened series fans will be able to wade through the storyline. And understand what all the jargon means. Be warned: if you don't know what a "Jinchūriki" or "Sharingan" are and why Sasuke Uchiha is on a bit of a downer, the rest of this review is better off skipped. It's not for you.
However, as effectively a 'complete' edition of a game that released last year, I'm not entirely sure who Full Burst is for. Swimsuit aficionados, probably.
Laurence Stark spent some of his short time here reviewing Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, describing it as "great for veterans, awful for newbies" back in March 2013. Full Burst is very much the same game, only with a few extras that were previously available as DLC.
The comprehensive if ponderous exposition is still very much a Marmite sandwich, delivering masses of dialogue with gorgeous cel-shaded cutscenes and full voice acting. Both Japanese and English dubs are available, the latter of which is broadly impressive (especially thanks to the ever-reliable William Knight as Danzo, who you might recognise as Ghost In The Shell's Chief Aramaki), with the exception of Naruto's awful nails-on-a-chalkboard voice that frays nerves and grinds teeth into fine powder. It's meaningless if you haven't followed the series, since your perspective frequently shifts between multiple characters including Naruto, Sasuke Uchiha and even Killer Bee, but is bound to delight franchise fans with hazy memories.
Full Burst's campaign has open-world pretensions, with players able to run around enormous sprawling environments that sadly remain gated off until the endgame. There's lots to see and subquests to accomplish, along with plenty of familiar faces and backdrops, but like the anime you'll have to put in the time to actually see everything. Approximately 24 hours.
Sooner or later, though, all the talking will be interrupted by a showdown with a familiar villain or hero, at which point things improve considerably. The franchise is famed for its one-on-one battles, allowing players to draw on characters' trademark attacks and ninjutsu alongside support from other legendary cast members. It's fluid combo-driven fare; initially simple in terms of basic attacks, shuriken, blocks, throws and dashes, but allowing for moves to be modified into ruinously potent strikes by loading them with chakra. Most characters can also enter an 'awakened' state, temporarily assuming a much more powerful form capable of outrageous damage potential. These frequent brawls are easily the high point of the game, making it well worth the time spent getting there.
The lack of a playable tutorial is annoying, and will likely force newcomers onto FAQs. We did warn you.
Inconsistent hit detection, infinite combos and sluggish blocking are still a sticking point, though balance seems to have been improved. The enormous cast of characters have undergone some rebalancing since my time in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, evening out some of the more overpowered fighters (you can stop moaning about Madara), but some are still clearly better than others at least until you're skilled enough to compensate. Several singleplayer battles showcase utterly ridiculous AI abuse, with several bosses locking you into infinite combos with staggeringly annoying regularity, while the progression system makes mountains out of molehills by factoring money and experience into an unnecessarily confusing list of one-use items. Still, again, using favourite characters such as Rock Lee and Kakashi in the campaign or competitive multiplayer is fantastic fun, and worth the price of admission for series fans.
Or is it?
See, I've just described a game that released last year, and Full Burst doesn't bring a huge amount more to the table. You get one -- ONE -- new playable character in Sage Mode Kabuto, alongside an extra story chapter and 100 short if entertaining challenge missions that fall outside the series canon. These bite-sized battles are easily the high point of the package thanks to their varied conditions, but can feel somewhat repetitious if played in long sessions. The cinematics have apparently been smartened up into HD, which is nice, while the main draw is ultimately a whopping selection of alternate outfits. This being an anime game, expect enough schoolgirl uniforms and swimsuits to make even the most hardened otaku blush.
If you already own Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, you're probably better off cherry-picking the DLC. If you didn't buy it, chances are you're not actually in the market. At the end of the day, Full Burst does the business on the offchance that you're a hardcore fan who didn't buy into the original game last year... but you could equally use the time to rewatch the anime and spend the RRP on snacks.
In my heart of hearts, I crave a Naruto game that goes beyond the canon by letting us create our own Ninja characters and teams in an action RPG or MMO, choosing to specialise in any of the abilities we want and creating our own stories. Until that happens -- and no, I'm not counting the browser game -- Ultimate Ninja Storm is here to stay. You already know if you're in the target audience. After all, you've probably got the headband.
- Loads of fan-favourite characters, intense & visceral battles
- 100 new challenge missions provide extra play time
- Exquisite visuals and fan service
- Reasonable voice acting (apart from Naruto himself!)
- Not much new content vs Ultimate Ninja Storm 3... except swimsuits
- Ludicrous amounts of tedious exposition, no matter how you slice it
- Open world fenced off until campaign completion, impenetrable for newcomers
- Some hit detection, infinite combo and balance gripes
The Short Version: If you're a massive Naruto Shippuden fan who didn't buy Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 last year, this new version is the answer to your oddly specific prayers. Otherwise, though, you might be better off settling down for a series marathon with a DVD box set, snacks and a replica forehead protector.