Manga’s been around for ages. My first Manga experience was the legend that is Akira and that quickly moved on to the equally awesome Ghost in the Shell. It took a bit of a nosedive when the dodgy Manga started to filter through and I lost interest which is a shame as Naruto looks to be the kind of thing that would’ve kept me interested.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a Manga cartoon tie-in of the same name. This looks at the origins of the character and takes us on a bit of a fighty journey through the story of the Ninja legend of the Sage of the Six Paths, as well as giving a free play and a multi-player card based top trumps style online option.
You start off on the campaign as Naruto’s father, the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze is about to take on the Nine Tailed Beast that threatens the Hidden Leaf Village. Your first task is to take on the mammoth beast on the edge of the village. Looking at the size of the beast, this seems an impossible task, as you take on the character of the Third Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi. You run and jump around the roof tops of the village and throw shuriken, then get close enough to wallop it with your massively inflated staff. This also introduces you to the support feature, where you use the bumper keys to call in extra non-playing characters to attack the enemy. Confused? Well, if you’re not overly familiar with the Naruto story, it does get kind of confusing to start with.
The campaign seems to have three modes of play, a one-on-one arena style fight, a free-roam adventure and an interactive cut-scene where the characters simply interact and you click your way through. Each one-on-one fight offers you the opportunity to take the legend or master path, with legend being the harder. Initially, as you work your way through the prologue, Minato takes on the masked Ninja, Madara Uchiha. This I found a bit of a button mashing exercise to begin with, as the tutorial screens while the game loads seems to flash up and flash off too quickly for you to take it all in and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll pass this first single combat test on the first go. In this game’s combat mode, you’ll learn to use the chakra and additional ninjutsu moves you can use, as each character you’ll play will have different finishing moves. Finish Madara off and you’ll get a nice little achievement and the rest of the Nine Tails defeat story to go through. Depending on the story path you’ve chosen, this then dishes out currency, which we’ll come to later. You’re then dropped into the more adventure side of the gameplay in the first chapter proper of the story. This sees you take control of Naruto for the first time as you wander around the Hidden Leaf Village, 16 years after the Nine Tail’s attack. This has you exploring the site, smashing boxes for currency that you can use to fill your inventory with nice health and chakra potions or tasty ramen to give you a health boost. This is a welcome break from the initial button mashing but this part of the story is very linear, even though you get the opportunity to interact with the villagers.
The story itself is excellently written, having taken the lead using one of the cartoon’s episodes. You feel engaged with the main character, Naruto, as he tries to save his friend Sasuke from certain doom. The characters you interact with throughout are well animated even if the dialogue doesn’t quite lip-sync with them. The subtitles are non-intrusive and are skippable, although you do risk missing out on a part of the storyline if you do this.
The graphics throughout are excellent, with the backdrops and adventure mode locations well drawn and well animated which lends itself well to the genre, the game and the story. Save points are dotted around the village in the form of birdhouses for homing pigeons and the non-playing characters are animated well.
Loading times can be a little on the lengthy side, although you do get a handy progress bar in the bottom corner while the tutorial appears to whizz through, not really giving you the opportunity to take it all in. I’m not sure if this is because the tutorial screen has so much text on it that your mind just can’t keep up, or whether it’s because your mind is still processing the storyline, but it all seems to be too much, too late.
The sounds almost get lost in the game, especially in the combat sequences, which, if I’m honest, are slightly too difficult to be able to confidently think you can win on the first go, the best I managed was on the 2nd attempt. The in-game dialogue seems a little strained, even though the story is very engaging. You do wonder why Naruto himself seems like a very angry boy indeed. Slowly but surely you do get the hang of the one-on-one fight scenes and they become easier despite the initial button mashing experience. If I have a criticism, it’s that there are some pointless cut-scenes, where it flashes back to Naruto and you have one line of dialogue before it switches focus and you’re suddenly controlling another character.
It’s not just Naruto that you control in this though, as, just like the Transformers games of late, you take control of the other side, as you aid Sasuke in his quest for revenge against the new Hokage of the Hidden Leaf, Danzo Shimura. This leads nicely onto the master plan of the Masked Ninja and the start of the next great Ninja war.
Make no mistake, the Naruto universe is huge. There is a raft of characters the game can choose from, and it utilises them very well. Character movement is smooth, fight scenes are well woven into the story even if they are a little on the difficult side, even on master setting. The story simply draws you in and this game will appeal massively to any fan of the long-running cartoon series. There are some niggles, the amount of times you’ll be defeated in the one-on-one, the pointless cut-scenes and the loading times to name but a few, but overall, this is a very good homage to the series bearing in mind the fact that it doesn’t seem to be able to make its mind up whether it’s an adventure game or an out-and-out fighter. The formula does get a little repetitive after a while, which is another let down, you can tell what’s coming and predictability is never a good thing in this type of game but ultimately, you’ll be drawn into the immersive world of Naruto. This isn’t usually the type of game I’d be attracted to, but having played it, I can certainly say that it’ll be one I’ll be coming back to.