With the Naruto manga selling in excess of 100 million copies worldwide, it comes as no surprise that the Konoha ninja is making another appearance in the world of video games. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 marks the first appearance of the Shippuden storyline on consoles. Thanks to the extreme popularity of the anime in Europe, it will be released there before it hits its home country of Japan. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Ninja Storm 2 combines the sharp look of the anime with its intense over-the-top battles. We took a first look at the game to see how Naruto's latest adventure is coming together.
Ninja Storm 2 is a cel-shaded 3D fighting game that lets you take control of one of 40 characters from the series. It faithfully follows the Naruto Shippuden story arc with a new story mode that developer CyberConnect2 has promised will be "more drama based." Like its predecessor, it's told via onscreen text and cutscenes, which precede and follow battles. You can choose up to three characters for each battle, switching among them with the shoulder buttons. Other controls for fighting have been updated. Though we weren't shown what the exact changes were, we were told that they would be simplified and much more intuitive than before.
Many other improvements have come directly from fan feedback. For example, fans wanted more of the over-the-top boss battles from the original. There are more than three times as many in Ninja Storm 2, with most being longer and outlandish. We were shown a few snippets from some boss battles, the first of which saw Naruto battling Kakashi. The first half of the battle looked like a standard fight, with the characters launching large energy blasts against each other. At times, the fight would move into the air, with long melee combos taking place. After Kakashi took a number of hits, the battle changed. A short cutscene was followed by both characters launching massive energy blasts at each other. At this point, quick-time commands popped up onscreen, corresponding to the animation. In this case, a single button had to be repeatedly hammered as quickly as possible to charge up more energy. Eventually, there was a huge explosion and Kakashi was left wounded in the centre of a large crater dug out by the blast.
The second boss battle we saw was against a massive electric eel. Its size meant it filled most of the screen, and a different technique was required to take it out. In front of Naruto were several floating islands in a lake. He had to navigate the platforms while avoiding the eel's attacks. Once he got close enough to it, he could attack, but this caused it to launch bolts of electricity that flowed through the water. Naruto had to be careful not to fall into the water while it was attacking, or he would risk electric shock. Similar to the other boss battle, this one also took place in two sections, with the second section using quick-time events.
Like its predecessor, Ninja Storm 2 will feature offline two-player battles complete with team special technique moves. New to the series is the ability to battle online across Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, though we were given no details on how the functionality will work. Visually, it retains the same style, with environments designed by the animation team behind the anime. The team blends cel-shading with hand-painted backdrops, which give it a beautiful look. The characters are extremely detailed, even in the heat of battle when faced with ridiculous explosions and screen-filling energy blasts. Anime purists will also be pleased to hear that both the English and Japanese voice-overs have made it to the sequel and can be switched over at any time.
It's clear from our short demo that CyberConnect2 is listening to Naruto fans, implementing many of the improvements they've requested. Rather than rewrite the game, the improvements simply refine it, with each tweak nipping way at the criticisms levelled at the original. Namco Bandai has promised to show more of the game at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, so keep an eye on GameSpot for more on the game in June. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is due out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 the third quarter of 2010.