It’s finally over. After more than a decade, the saga of Naruto has finally come to an end. That’s a sensation that finally hit me this year with Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, the final chapter in a series of fighting games that may not have always been revolutionary in terms of gameplay but were more than happy to push the limits of consoles with some bleeding edge visuals.
That’s…that’s a lot of history for me. That’s a decade of hastily downloaded fan subbed episodes, weekly scanlations and a hobby that eventually led to more official releases being supported, I promise. That’s a substantial part of my life dedicated to an epic tale of ninjas, family secrets and the power of forgiveness. If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably still looking for some closure now that Naruto has finished up. Some sort of tribute that will close the book on the maverick shinobi and his pals.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 isn’t that kind of game. Well, not entirely.
What it is, is a celebration of the franchise. A gorgeous fighting game that offers little to nothing in terms of technical innovations that are designed to more the three-dimensional brawler forward. It’s fan service to the extreme, dropping veterans straight into the middle of the last great Shinobi World War and trimming any unnecessary fat along the way.
Look, if you’ve ever wondered why a ninja in an orange jumpsuit can summon the kind of Kaiju that would give Pacific Rim Jaegers a run for their mechanised money, then you’re better off reading the manga or watching the anime that happens to be more filler than actual source material these days. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 isn’t here to hold hands and recap the entire story for you, but it’s pretty damn happy to make you watch cheap screen captures of the anime series before major battles, that number in many of minutes.
It is an absolutely odd mixture of pure quality and tight-fisted frugality, as Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 happily switches between being a tightly-polished fighting game and a skint series of filler content. The combat, as ever, is virtually unchanged on a surface level. Simple combos, augmented by projectiles and the use of chakra to deliver secret ninjutsu techniques and even deadlier ultimate forms.
On a deeper level, Naruto Ultimate Ninja games have never just been about being the best ninja around. They’ve been all about being the best ninja around thanks to your opponent wasting their moves and resources, burning through substitution jutsus and staying on your toes at all times.
It’s never been about the size of the bang with these techniques, but when to use them. Dodging a combo at the precise moment to deliver an explosive attack that can upset any momentum that your opponent may have experienced thus far. If you can master any one particular character, you can get to grips with anyone else on the roster easy enough.
Dip your ninja stars deeper, and you’ll find more subtle enhancements to the formula. Switching characters mid-battle, leveraging your resources and making use of your Storm gauge and the nine support abilities to create a new team dynamic along the way. New guard animations that allow you roll out of danger and avoid being cornered. Parry and blocking systems which feel more intuitive.
Environmental and elemental effects that actually reward smart players. Freakin’ wall-running. I could go on for ages, but I’m genuinely torn here as these improvements are both overt and covert. But whereas some ideas are splendid, others feel half-baked at times.
The addition of team-based support attacks don’t bring that much to the ninja table. Team selection only really works if you pair characters with partners that have history with one another. For example, a tag-team of Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura can result in an ultimate attack that is big enough to level Michael Dudikoff’s enduring American Ninja film series into dust.
Pair Naruto up with characters like Zabuza and TenTen, and the end result isn’t anywhere near as flashy. Unlike the majority of the visuals. I’m still astounded how every game in the series can put more three-dimensional achievements in the industry to shame. That style naturally extends to the quick-time events, lavishly gorgeous battles and moments in the history of the Shinobi World War which require that extra tap of the face button or whirl of the analogue stick to properly play out.
They’re beautiful in their excess, like Michael Bay being given an unlimited budget to make movies for Pixar. They’ll melt your face off with fire jutsus, stop an entire world war with kaiju and break your heart in that final chapter. It’s only a handful of hours however, after which Adventure Mode aims to keep the action flowing. It’s a mode mostly made up of narrative that fills in plot holes, an extended series of quests that leads directly into various fights.
And I’ve never seen the point of it, not when the free battle system essentially takes all of that time-wasting exposition out of the equation and streamlines the process with various modes and options. If there is one area where Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 falls flat, it’s online. It’s a temperamental lobby, one that is happy to set you up for a decent bout one afternoon, and kick your ass out for squinting at the screen funny. Online play right now is a nightmare of dropped connections and infinite waiting.
Or it might not be. Like I said, when it works, it works. If Online Play is in the mood for it. Try twirling your analogue sticks counter-clockwise, I hear that sometimes works. Look, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 isn’t the note that you want to end a franchise on. It’s a polarising product, a flippant final chapter in the same way that horror movies trick suckers into seats by claiming that their cinematic monster is finally dead.
There’ll be more Naruto in the future, something I’d bet my life on. But there’s problems here, that are balanced by some features and improvements which hardcore fans will pick up on. I both love and loathe Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, I want it to be a swansong to a developer that cut its teeth by making my eyeballs bleed. But it isn’t, and yet I still want to play more of it.
Believe it one more time.
Last Updated: February 23, 2016