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Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
Graphics: 8.8
Gameplay: 7.7
Sound: 7.4
Control: 7.5
Replay Value: 8.2
Rating: 7.8

I think we all know that Naruto games are made for fans of the popular anime TV show. Therefore, if you’re not really into that type of thing, this is probably a big ol’ pass for you. But considering the technical proficiency of this particular sequel, the fun factor and relative depth involved in the combat, and the excellent encompassing of show highlights (classic fanservice), the intended audience should be satisfied. If you’re on the other side of the fence, the unbearable English voice acting, somewhat bland Adventure Mode in terms of detail and exploration, and mostly unfamiliar storyline will likely turn you off. But hey, CyberConnect2 cares only about the fans in this scenario and in that respect, they pump out a solid – and even surprisingly diverse – product. From the deceptively simply battle to the QTEs to even a few role-playing elements, Naruto followers will have plenty to do.

Believe it or not, the graphics are the biggest highlight. It’s almost as if one is playing an interactive version of the TV program, which is one hell of a technical feat. The clarity and singular anime style shines through in almost every facet of the presentation, the special effects are borderline astounding, and the colors and shading are nearly perfect. There were some small drawbacks during certain encounters and I wasn’t the biggest fan of the environments found in Adventure Mode, but if you just dive right into Free Play, you’ll be blown away by the graphics on display. This really puts so many other anime-based video games to shame and in all honesty, it’s long past time a developer managed to implement realistic Japanese cartoon style in an interactive adventure. But again, you sort of have to be into anime, or you might not be too impressed.

Okay, so the visuals are where they deserve to be; the designers dazzled us with their seamless and professional institution of a colorful, pleasing presentation. But I suppose terrible voice acting is a staple of anime that must remain, or we’d lose the authentic nature of the distinctly Japanese production. …all right, but that doesn’t stop it from sucking. Thankfully, you can opt for the Japanese voices if you so desire (and you so do). The sound effects are certainly good and play the proper role of “enhancer” in regards to the fast-action gameplay. There’s some balancing issues between the effects and music, too, but this is something else that seems to be permanently lodged within the world of anime. Well, at least in the world of anime video games. For the most part, it’s exactly what the fans are looking for and the effects become the focal point, which was the right move.

For a bit of background, Ninja Storm 2 starts at the very beginning of the series: Naruto comes back to Konoha after a whole lot of training, but there are multiple story branches to follow. One follows Naruto, one deals with his friend, Sasuke, and the third is about Naruto’s mentor Jiraya-sama. The story really does grab the limelight so don’t think for a second that we’re looking at a traditional fighter; both the various gameplay elements and story emphasis debunks that erroneous idea. Remember, CyberConnect2 had to find a way to get several hundred episodes worth of content into this game, so… As for the structure, the aforementioned village acts as a central hub of sorts, where you can take on missions, buy items, and talk to a few minor characters and civilians. You actually start by controlling Gaara, a former villain who has a powerful demon trapped within him, which his enemies apparently want for themselves.

Yes, there’s Adventure Mode, Free Play, and online battles, but unsurprisingly, it’s all about the fighting. This is both good and bad in my eyes: the good is that the combat mechanic is both accessible and compelling, in that newcomers can easily pull off some devastating strikes with a tap of a button (or two), but there’s plenty beneath the surface, if you wish to uncover it. I’ll get back to this in a moment. The bad is that with such a heavy emphasis on the fighting, the developers sort of forgot to flesh out the Adventure Mode to the point where it feels like an actual “adventure.” It’s just a little bland; you never really feel as if you’re doing anything but taking roundabout ways to your next encounter. And sometimes, they’re not even roundabout; it’s all a mite thin. When playing, I didn’t have much incentive to see what happened next, which is a definite flaw, wouldn't you say?

As for the controls and battle system, it all resides on a very stable foundation. At its base you find a simple setup where we only utilize a few buttons to take down foes; one button for this attack, one button to jump, one button for the character’s special move, etc. It’s very accessible and only after playing for a while do you realize there’s a lot more to this than fists and feet. No, you can also bring different items and spells into battle, and Naruto has an always-handy supply of throwing knives; combined with insane agility, skilled players can really give enemies fits. However, I think – I think - the hardcore fans may be resentful of the battle system’s ease of entry for newcomers. After all, you can blast through a lot of the game by using very simple strategies and mashing on a few buttons, and that’s usually frowned upon by the purists. It can also be interpreted as a shortcoming, depending who you are.

Me, I don’t mind in the slightest, as I require that kind of assistance, anyway. The initiation was pleasant and I think that’s the most important part. The online mode boasts around 40 fighters although I have to say, I don’t think there are enough differences from character to character. Also, it’s highly recommended that you play the offline modes for a while before venturing online; as you might expect, there are some serious fighters out there who will wipe the floor with novices. The online play feels a little thin, too, though, and in the end, I felt as if the game was just shy of reaching its overall goal. Still, for the most part, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a game strictly for the fans and in that, it succeeds. The graphics are nigh-on amazing, the sound fits (provided you can get past the poor English voices), and the combat is a complete, fulfilling mechanic that delivers in a big way.

I liked the twists to battles we usually find in the Naruto games; with the items and spells and other exploration/RPG elements – not to mention the focus on character development and plot – I was able to enjoy myself for quite some time. Granted, it got a little old due to some repetition and the Adventure Mode that just got boring, but I imagine the fans won’t complain.

The Good: Great graphics; it looks exactly as it should. Devs successfully implement many highlights from TV show. Combat is both accessible and intricate. Controls are solid. Twists to the standard nature of fighting games; i.e., items, spells, exploration.

The Bad: Adventure Mode feels bland and stark. English voiceovers are terrible. Noobs can mash buttons for a long time.

The Ugly: If you’re not into anime, it’s an almost automatic pass.

10/26/2010   Ben Dutka