Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2

Platform: Xbox 360 (also on PS3)

Developer: CyberConnect2

Publisher Namco Bandai

# of Players: 1-2 (online)

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: A-

Japanese developer CyberConnect2 pretty much has this Naruto thing nailed up tightly to the point of near perfection. Every time I get my hands on one of their games either PSP or console, I'm amazed at how well the developer can translate the crazy power of Naruto into playable form. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 manages to be even more of a total blast to play than the original game, adds speedy online play for the first time for those who want it (it's great) and overall, is definitely recommended for fans of the long-running franchise. Sure, it's probably not going to win over hardcore players of deeper fighters out there (who don't know what they're missing, frankly speaking). However, the sheer amount of quality oozing from the final product absolutely deserves a ton of respect no matter what your genre tastes are.

A quick note for Xbox 360-only owners: This isn't the exact same sort of larger open-world adventure/RPG that the two great Ubisoft developed games were, so don't freak out when you can't do all the roaming you want and you see all those fixed camera angles. Trust me, when the game opens up, you'll be spending about as much or more time with it than those other two titles. This followup to the PS3-only original follows the rather densely packed Shippuden storyline, but thanks to a wealth of cut scenes and the boatload of interesting characters you'll come across, it's hard to find yourself bored by the overall plot.

Like most other Naruto games, there's a lengthy Adventure mode that's part light RPG, part beat 'em up and all important in unlocking a bunch of new characters and content. This is by no means a short, blow through it over a rainy weekend fighter, folks. Once you're dialed into the gameplay and story, you'll find yourself spending a wee bit too much time caring about what happens in and around Hidden Leaf Village. Purists will note that a few story elements from the anime aren't here or have been minimized a bit, but this actually helps keep the game from being weighted down when you want to go bash a few ninjas in the face. That and you've eventually got 40 or so playable characters to work with, so it just makes sense that you're not dealing with everyone's baggage that would end up slowing the game to a crawl.

The combat engine here is fantastic, period. Simple to learn on the easiest setting, very tricky to master on the hardest and you're in for a tough time right from the start if you try to mash your way through some of the tougher battles. Enemies don't just stand there and let you wail away on them, that's for sure. The best fights look and "feel" straight out of the anime (thanks to some great QTE moments) and at times (thanks to some great camera angles), you'll be picking your jaw up off the floor while trying to deal with some pretty brutal bosses or other characters. The action is highly dynamic and thanks to a bunch of cool cinematic angles, the game really looks like an anime at certain points. Hell, take away the on screen HUD and if you were watching someone play the game, you'd almost think you were watching an episode of the show.

You'll earn lots of cash from doing assorted side quests and yup, you'll probably blow it all in the marketplace. One thing you'll need to do throughout the main game is unlock characters to use either offline as co-op partners during some battles, in versus mode or online against some ridiculously good live opponents. Sure, it would have been sweet to have all 40 characters playable from the outset, but this is a game that wants you to go through all the trouble of mastering it while you're unlocking new fighters. Juggling Chakra, Support AI and item usage is key and makes a huge difference in some fights once you figure out how to mop up the mat with a formerly powerful foe as quickly as possible.

There are a few slow moments in the game (it would be nice next time to skip certain character animations with a button press), but again, if you're hooked into the fighting, you probably won't mind much. You also won't mind the stunning visuals. CyberConnect2 is probably one of the more underrated Japanese developers working today, paradoxically because they've been cranking away on a licensed franchise or two many take for granted. As good as this latest Naruto installment is, I keep wondering just what they'd produce when given free reign and complete creative control. To date, the small stack of Naruto and .hack games CC2 has done have been pretty solid in terms of overall presentation and even innovative in some areas.

As for the audio here, sounds and music here are solid as well. You can choose from English or Japanese dubbed voices (with English subtitles, naturally) and while the selection of tunes in the game aren't bad at all, sticking around in one area for too long can have the side effect of a particular track looping in your dreams later on. That, or you'll find yourself humming or even whistling something only another Naruto fanatic would crack a knowing smile at you for when you stroll by him or her in a public place.

As noted above, online play is onboard and as you can imagine, there are already a ton of really good to insanely cheap players all over the place looking to put a notch or twelve in their virtual belts. Let's just say that you'd best be good with that controller (the game doesn't support an arcade stick) or some ten-year old with an headband and jammies is taking you down hard and bragging about it right afterward. Damn kids. There's not much to say against the game at all other than some lazier players may not want to do all the legwork in unlocking all the characters (you know them - they're the ones on GameFaqs and other sites trolling for cheat codes, complete saves or other help in getting everything while barely touching the controller). On the other hand, those that crave diving into their fighting games will find this game a total blast to play from start to finish even if they're not Naruto fans.

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