Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Preview
There's no denying that Japanese and American gamers have very different tastes when it comes to gaming, but while they shouldn't ignore the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV, perhaps we shouldn't be ignoring very Japanese-centric titles like Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm. Already a veteran franchise in the world of games, "Naruto" has enjoyed multiple installments on multiple platforms, including Ultimate Ninja Heroes for the PSP. And now, thanks to Namco Bandai's recent press event, we have plenty of new information on this promising action title, which is currently without a release date for Japan and the US. For those of you who love the look of anime and appreciate the idea of a unique action game with plenty of flash and panache, you might want to look into Ultimate Ninja Storm. Let's just hope Namco doesn't restrict it to Japan, though, because we'd be missing out.
While the game is categorized as "action," much of that action will take place in one-on-one combat, which sounds suspiciously like a fighting game to us. But even so, we've got some good news for you: if you're at all familiar with the DragonBall Z titles, you'll probably agree that most entries in that series aren't exactly accessible. They're fighting games, but they institute a very different control style, which generally only appeals to big fans of the series. However, according to Hiroshi Matsuyama, President/CEO of CyberConnect2, who was interviewed by IGN, accessibility is a key component of Ultimate Ninja Storm. As he said through a translator: "the number one point obviously is that we have to satisfy the Naruto fans out there, but at the same time we want to make the game casual enough so that those who are not aware of the Naruto license can jump in, pick up the controller and play the game very easily. I believe the game itself encompasses a very wide audience." This is exactly what they need to do with a game like this; cast a wider net!
If Namco Bandai doesn't plan to bring this one to the US, they're really wasting a tremendous effort by CyberConnect2 to make this game entertaining for all gamers, as they clearly wish to break down any cultural barriers that inherently exist. As we stated in the intro, it'd be a good idea if you were an anime fan, but even that isn't really a requirement. We Americans love to have our fast-paced action with plenty of physics-defying maneuvers, as evidenced by games like Ninja Gaiden and God of War. This being the case, we certainly appreciate the approach the developers took with Ultimate Ninja Storm, as it will feature plenty of hectic insanity, cemented by speedy characters and - best of all - a simple, user-friendly interface. No more struggling with DragonBall Z-type controls; all you'll really have to do is use the Circle button to attack and the X button to jump. Obviously, there will be more in the way of special abilities (like "jutsu" skills), but this straightforward foundation is a big step in the right direction.
So if you have great action and an atmosphere that won't be restricted in entertainment value to Japanese gamers, you may have a winning formula. On top of which, Matsuyama reinforced his team's efforts with the following quote- "one of the goals or themes that we had when we decided to make the PS3 product was to get rid of the barrier between the anime and what the game actually offers, so that we meld them together in a very natural sense. So users have the experience as if they're partaking directly in the anime series." CyberConnect2 is adding another dimension to the basic battle mechanic, which seems to revolve around a tag-team setup. Well, actually, it's more like a Summon from an RPG, because the "tagged" character can only rush in and execute one attack, and then they're off again. If you hit either the R1 or L1 buttons, you will be able to bring in another character to help you in battle, and you have a limited amount of time to dole out serious damage. This means that when you execute the "tag" function, you'll want to be prepared to unleash a hail of combos on your opponent. It's like Wrestlemania in Naruto land! ...or something.
Finally, despite the developer's efforts to make Ultimate Ninja Storm appeal to a wider audience, they're certainly not ignoring all you Naruto fans. Matsuyama said the game will loosely follow the events of the first 135 episodes and "touch upon key plot points within," which is great news for avid followers of the series. Furthermore, you will be able to select different missions that range from full-on battles to fun mini-games, and that helps to bring the game more into the action realm. It also reminds us a little of the Story modes in Soul Calibur, although we're certain the gameplay is very different from Namco's fighter. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm should arrive in Japan some time later this year, and hopefully, it'll come to the US and European territories not long after.
4/17/2008 Ben Dutka