Japan's crazy popular ninja-packed anime flings out videogames like a mad Catherine wheel, and amidst the numerous spin-offs and handheld outings, Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 can just about be discerned as the eighth in CyberConnect2's Ultimate Ninja fighting series.
Unlike most side-on beat-'em-ups, battles are fought from a perspective closer to FIFA's touchline cam, vast arenas making for free-flowing fights which incorporate light-speed sprints, ridiculous air juggles and teleportation. Guarding's on RT, strikes are on B, dodging on A and Shurikens on X, but it's the Chakra which powers the stuff you paid to see, running on a meter filled by successful attacks. Amass enough and good things happen.
Temari fights with a chunky four-foot-high fan used to waft devastating gusts at opponents; Kankuro is flanked by two creepy puppets on strings who sporadically step into the fray, and when he's not skulking around with hands in pockets, Shino calls down swarms of shiny purple beetles to smother and harass. If you're familiar with Naruto, it's faithful stuff. If not, it's bloody weird.
88 characters and 40 stages (including Samurai Bridge, Inn Town and Akatsuki Hideout) vary one-on-ones, while team fights add a new dimension entirely. Here, you're helped by two allies. Unlike tag matches in Street Fighter or Tekken, you can't control them yourself, but they'll jump in and reel off a move or two. Gaara, for instance, can thrown down with a sand tsunami, while Kiba and his wolf strike hard with fangs and punches.
In the story mode, you won't always fight conventional opponents on solid ground. When mammoth lupine monster The Nine Tails attacks Hidden Leaf Village (an event Naruto fans might remember from the series), you'll dart across rooftops and dodge screen-filling energy streams. Overblown mid-fight cutscenes and QTEs would disrupt the flow of most games, but here they keep with the anime's flights of ludicrous fancy.
If the cutscenes seem a little, well, Asura's Wrath-ish, there's a very good reason for that: CyberConnect 2 also developed Asura's Wrath. From the slipped-in QTE's to the escalating pace to the planet-shaking bosses, the crazy heritage is clear.
The lack of variable difficulty, however, poses a problem to those without the actual reflexes of a ninja, and given the scale of the carnage, only allowing two human players at once feels cheap. The competitive multiplayer offering is hardly a premier suite of features, either - there are no lobbies, no replays, no spectator option, and only three modes: head-to-head, tournament and the self-explanatory Endless Fight.
Stick with it and you may find yourself disappointed by the uneven challenge factor and scanty online features, but these are obscured by all the brightly-coloured nonsense and if you get far enough in to notice then you're probably enough of a fan not to care. If you aren't intimately familiar with chakra levels, but you do like your brawlers fast, hard and complex, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 may appeal.
Naturo's carved a niche, but there are better brawlers
- Gorgeous cell-shaded visuals
- 88 characters and 40 stages
- Story recreates famous Naruto events
- No difficulty toggle
- Fights limited to one-on-one