The past year has been a memorable one for fans of Naruto, the long-running anime and manga series. The manga ended its lengthy run, and the anime series will soon follow suit--though the next generation of stories featuring Naruto’s son has already begun taking shape in comics and a feature-length film. As the original story comes to a conclusion, so does the fan-favorite Ultimate Ninja Storm game series on the new generation of consoles. Thankfully, the developers at CyberConnect2 have made sure the series wraps up nicely, as well.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 sticks to the core gameplay tenets of the series, offering a massive roster of characters from across the sprawling Naruto saga and pitting you in one-on-one battles in a free-roaming arena against another ninja. Actually, it’s more like three-on-three this time around: while you could have partners to assist you in previous games in the series, now you can assemble a team of three characters and swap between them as you please in mid-battle. Unlike most other team-based fighters, however, all characters share the same lifebar.
As a free-roaming fighter, there’s a lot you can do. Movement utilizes the left analog stick and the jump button, allowing you to dance around the field with your speedy ninja moves and close in for the kill when necessary. You can even do ninja wall-runs this time around in some arenas. To damage your foe, you can make use of throwing weapons for low-damage ranged attacks, basic ground and air combos, throws, and special ninja techniques that utilize your chakra gauge. Managing your chakra is very important, since many of your special abilities depend on it: you can charge it manually--which leaves you vulnerable--build it through exchanging blows, or pick up some chakra balls that drop when your foe is down.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a beatdown, you can use a substitution jutsu to teleport out of the way and attempt a counterattack, or summon your partners with the shoulder buttons to aid you with their special skills. If the going gets really tough, you can even dig into your ninja item stash and use tools for recovery, power boosts, and other nifty effects like causing massive explosions. nd once combat’s dragged on past a certain point and your health is nearing critical levels, you can charge up a ninja Awakening for an even bigger--although temporary--boost to your abilities.
This isn’t a game you’d want to play as a serious competitive title.
Having three characters in your group changes the dynamic somewhat from previous games, since you essentially have access to three different movesets at any point and can shift through them as needed. Since each character has separate substitution jutsu and chakra meters, swapping can also be useful if one member is low on resources, or if there’s a specific assist you want to use. The character combinations you pick may have some added benefits, as well: specific combinations grant access to special team attack skills (and some incredibly cool cinematics to accompany them). Use a huge chunk of Chakra and all of your Storm meter, and you can pull off the ultimate beatdown: a Linked Super Technique. This skill isn’t always practical in a heated fight, and many groups can’t even use it, but when you do pull off a super-awesome three-person jutsu special skill, you feel like the coolest ninja that’s ever walked the earth.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is by no means a balanced fighting game--the gigantic roster with numerous variations on characters should clue you in to that fact pretty fast--but for what it is, it’s fun. Characters control well, have varied and interesting abilities, and zipping around while launching crazy ninja attacks feels incredibly satisfying. Since every character has the same basic control scheme, you won’t have to worry about memorizing a specific command list every time you want to try out someone new. This isn’t a game you’d want to play as a serious competitive title, but for messing around, doing cool stuff, and pulling victory from the claws of defeat with an absurdly powerful special attack, it’s quite entertaining.
CyberConnect2’s Naruto games have always received a great deal of praise for their visuals, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is no different in this regard. These are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful visuals of their type, with the cel shading on the characters making them look like they just jumped in straight from the animated series. Little visual details--like armor and weapons breaking, or clothes burning off from fire attacks--are also welcome additions.
When the game showcases elaborate cutscenes featuring these models, it’s an absolute visual delight. The excellent choreography combined with the superb character visuals makes for scenes that look better than a lot of CG portions in actual anime. Sadly, there are less of these scenes than in some of the previous Ultimate Ninja Storm titles--a lot of the story scenes are simply still images with voiceovers, which is disappointing.
In terms of content, there’s a lot to be had here. Story Mode recounts some of the later chapters of the Naruto saga, taking you through a chain of interconnected events and battles through the point of view of various characters. (If you don’t know the general plot progression by this point, you’re going to be majorly lost, unfortunately.) Besides regular fights, you’ll encounter sequences with quick time event inputs and fights against multiple foes at once. Adventure mode is a little disappointing on the story front--it’s essentially a series of silly fetch quests strung together to get Naruto and blushing bride-to-be Hinata more romantically entangled. But it does let you run through numerous locales in the Naruto world, as well as provide a lot of fun character interaction moments.
Everything, from the visual touches to the character interactions in and out of battle to the voiceovers, is meant to make Naruto fans happy--though the fact that there’s a fun little fighting game underneath certainly helps.
Rewards you earn from battles in Story Mode and the various missions in Adventure Mode can be used to purchase assorted cosmetic items for your characters and your online profile. Earning extra items and rare drops depends on your overall grade from the fight. If you want to get everything from this game--and there’s a lot of stuff to get--prepare to spend a lot of time S-ranking battles and making sure you satisfy the various bonus conditions of each fight.
Besides these modes, there are the usual single-player and two-player free battles, along with online combat. Free Battle has numerous variations: Survival, Tournament, League, and a training-focused Practice mode. Online mode offers limited-time single player events and rewards, along with online matchmaking. Similarly to other fighting games, there’s a Ranked Mode where you gain and lose Battle Points and vie against combatants worldwide for higher spots on the leaderboard. There are a few unexpected downgrades to online play, such as the removal of spectator mode and fewer people in lobbies (down to 4 from 8 in previous games).
The overall feeling I got while playing through Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 was that the people behind this game really, truly card about the franchise, and wanted to make a game that would please fans first and foremost. Everything, from the visual touches to the character interactions in and out of battle to the voiceovers, is meant to make Naruto fans happy--though the fact that there’s a fun little fighting game underneath certainly helps. A licensed game that feels as nicely made as this one is a rarity indeed, and any fan of Naruto, even the casual ones who don’t wear ninja headbands while shopping for groceries, would do well to give this a look.