Naruto Uzumaki may look a bit more grown up in the Shippuden series, but he's still the same brash character that left Hidden Leaf Village two and a half years ago. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 tells the story of the young spiky-haired ninja who has returned to his village, only to realize that everyone else has risen in rank while he was off training. Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 for the PlayStation Portable mixes good old-fashioned brawls and side-scrolling missions with a solid line-up of all your favorite characters from the Naruto universe.
One of the features of the game is the Master Road, a story-driven experience that will take you through the Naruto Shippuden storyline up to the Hidan and Kakuzu arc. The story follows Naruto on his ongoing adventure to save his friend Sasuke, but it starts off with Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi teaming up to rescue Gaara from the Akatsuki. In Master Road, the missions, as well as story events, are represented by squares and connected on a path that can also split off. You don't necessarily have to complete everything, but you earn ninja points each time you complete a mission. Ninja points can be spent to purchase tactics, collectables, and ninjutsu moves, which you'll come across during your travels. Tactics are enhancements that you can tack onto yourself before you start a mission to give yourself the upper hand. You can only choose one, though, so there's a little bit of strategy in figuring out what would work best in the given situation, such as greater jumping power or increased speed. Collectables like pictures, music, and ultimate jutsu movies can also be purchased with NPs, as well as viewed in Naruto's home. Additional ninjutsu moves can be bought, but they're only available for use in Free Battle mode.
Each mission comes with a win condition and can vary between a fight against one or up to four characters. Or missions may come in the form of a side-scrolling adventure where you must either defeat a certain number of foes before the timer runs out or get to the end of the stage. Missions that can be played cooperatively are indicated by an icon in the map menu, so you can team up with up to two friends via ad hoc and battle your way to victory. You can always skip or even replay missions to earn more NPs, and there are more than 80 of them to complete. For some free-for-all fights, Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 introduces four-player battles over ad hoc, where you can play against three friends and team up for some powerful jutsu attacks.
There are more than 50 playable characters, including young Kakashi and Obito Uchiha from the Naruto Shippuden special, Kakashi Chronicles. As you progress through the game's story mode, you'll encounter familiar faces that will eventually be unlocked to play as in Free Battle mode. You'll also have the opportunity to play as other characters as you go through the story, depending on the scenario, so you're not always playing as Naruto.
The game's story is voice acted and presented with great still art, as well as character portraits. Some of the side-scrolling areas are reused, however, but the environments are nice backdrops for your ninja roughhousing. The controls are tight, and you'll easily be able to get the hang of the combat through a few practice sessions. Naruto fans should keep an eye on Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 when it is released sometime in May.