If you're not already a fan of the series, you may well be looking at this title with tired eyes and thinking “yet another animé beat 'em up, where do all these bloody things come from?”. But such a dismissive statement is tragically, epically, explosively out of place here. But, er, it is a beat 'em up based on a manga and animé series.
Again developed by CyberConnect2 and out now only for PS4, Xbox One and PC, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (try saying that even once while you're drunk) marks the series' debut on the more powerful current-gen consoles. It's always been a good-looking game, but this is flippin' gorgeous. It doesn't quite look like you're controlling an episode of Naruto – this is 3D models versus 2D animation cels, after all – but it's as close as you could possibly hope for. This is an extremely rare example of a game looking just as good as it does in trailers and screenshots.
Series fans already know what to expect to an extent and, let's face it guys and gals, you're all going to buy this no matter what. Everybody else; you know what Naruto is, right? If not, it's one of the most popular manga franchises ever, which spawned a truly epic 220 episode TV series. There's no way I can cover all the intricacies of the story here, but it has: ninjas, giant supernatural creatures, incredible powers, stacks of fights, and lots of people running toward one another screaming “aaaaAAAAHHHHH”. That's all you need to know for now.
At its core, yes, NS:UNS4 is a one-on-one beat 'em up. Fights take place in 3D arenas you're free to move around in, though, and the controls are wildly different to what you might be used to. There's just one standard attack button, with your chakra (for those unfamiliar with Naruto: let's just say Blue Glow) being the most important element. Your chakra gauge is depleted each time you launch a special attack, generally do something especially ninjaesque, or even counterattack. You can refill it any time by holding down the relevant button, but this leaves you open to attack. Also: shurikens!
In addition to (hopefully) self-explanatory Free Battle and Survival modes, you get Story and Adventure modes. Story mode covers the canon Naruto saga via static anime scenes, fully animated cutscenes using the amazing in-game graphics, and lots and lots of spoken dialogue delivered by the original actors (available in both English and Japanese). Oh, and a great many fights too, of course. Most of these will incorporate support characters which you can switch to and/or call in for a few seconds of support, subject to cooldown periods. It's best appreciated by Naruto fans, but does an admirable job of explaining most (if not all) of what's going on to the ignorant.
Adventure mode follows on immediately after Story mode, and is a sort of RPG-lite experience. You'll be able to wander around locations from the series between fights, talking to NPCs and buying helpful items in shops. This mode serves to fill in some story details and important fights that weren't squeezed into Story mode, and provides yet more hours of solo content (albeit without spoken dialogue). As preposterously generous as the game is offline, there's also an online mode of course. Almost every fight I had was as super smooth as offline, but make no mistake: if you have no experience and/or skill, you are going to get absolutely obliterated. There are both Ranked and Player (unranked) matches on offer but, unfortunately, there's no rematch offer for Ranked fights.
What we have here is a perfect marriage of a deservedly popular epic to very talented, and clearly equally passionate, developers. It's the perfect gift for any Naruto fan (provided they have a compatible gaming machine, anyway) while still somehow managing to welcome those new to the story, the game series, or both. A veritable army of characters, each one with unique attacks, is the sumptuous icing on an already unnervingly sexy cake.
Ultimate Ninja Storm-ing its way into our hearts. 5/5.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 at CeX
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