As often as a new Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm game comes out, there aren’t many licensed games that are met with such appreciation. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 bring the series to a new generation of consoles and finally wraps up the Naruto Shippuden narrative. In doing this, UNS4 offers a few ways to play; Story, Adventure, Free Battle, and Online Battle. It should be considered, though, that nothing but Free Battle mode is available to play before updating the game.
As has become standard for anime-based fighters, combat takes place in three dimensions, allowing the agility and acrobatics you’d expect from a Naruto battle. Combatants rely on standard attacks, ranged items and powerful ninjutsu special moves to take down their foes. What makes fights most interesting, though, is substitution Jutsu, allowing a fighter to ‘teleport’ out of the way of an attack at the cost of a replenishing gauge. It’s a system that allows for spectacular battles befitting of its narrative, but not one that offers much depth. The series has remained almost mechanically identical since it first moved to the PS3 generation, but the accessible simplicity of combat evidently matters more to CyberConnect2 than offering challenging or thoughtful gameplay. Most fights boil down to mashing the attack button, using substitution where possible and launching as many ninjutsu abilities as possible, but that’s not to say they don’t look and feel just like Naruto.
The main attraction here is the story mode, retelling the final arcs of Naruto Shippuden. Standard battles are strung together with intense quick-time events and massive scale boss battles. It keeps things exciting and engaging, and adds weight to the battles that can otherwise feel fairly dull. Beautiful animation and crazy set-piece battles make for an excellently crafted single-player experience. As someone who likes Naruto but hasn’t kept up-to-date, I had an awesome time experiencing the conclusion of the story this way. Strangely enough, though, the story begins in the middle of a battle, hundreds of episodes deep into the anime. For anyone unfamiliar with Naruto, this would be a confusing and ill-explained place to start. Conversely, I can’t imagine anybody who’s already read or watched the entire narrative enjoying the experience as much as I did.
If there’s one thing UNS4 nails, it’s the visuals. It looks like Naruto Shippuden. As Story mode flickers between in-game cutscenes and stills from the show, it isn’t always clear which is which. It rarely feels like an emulation of the anime, but instead, a part of the anime. For the Naruto fan who wants nothing more than to play as the characters they love in a loving recreation of their world, this is a game that ticks that box with an especially thick pen. There is a clear passion and love for the source material that went into this project, and that should be appreciated.
Adventure mode, on the other hand, is the antithesis of excitement. Set after Story mode, Adventure has you explore the ninja villages as Naruto, running errands and remembering key events throughout the story’s long history. The key issue here is that ‘exploring’ boils down to walking along strict paths, and ‘the ninja villages’ turn out to be virtual hallways. The most entertaining part of Adventure mode is playing memorable battles from much earlier in the series, but because they’re housed in such a dull, tedious experience, the monotony of battle becomes abundantly clear. It’s such a shame we couldn’t properly run jump and climb around as Naruto should.
The Free Battle modes, while only offering simple, shallow battles, should be commended for their range of options. On top of playing against a buddy or a CPU with a variety of rounds and team members, UNS4 features Tournament and League battles. While tournament modes are no surprise in anime titles, it’s nice to also have a League option, pitting a group of players together in all possibilities for 1v1 battles and tallying up the score. I know I would have loved something like this back when I was wrecking my boys on every DBZ game on PS2.
I found no reason to worry about the game’s “Collection” features. Here, you can customize a trading card to represent yourself in online battles. Images, backgrounds and titles can be earned or bought with in-game currency. There are so many options, and you’ll be rolling in money by the time you get through Story mode. Nothing felt special or desirable, especially because of how small of an aesthetic role these things play.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 offers an authentic Naruto experience. As a fighting game, it’s fairly shallow and rarely rewards sophisticated gameplay. The Story mode, though, delivers a great single-player experience, filled with excitement and fun from beginning to end. Adventure mode is a dull grind, but free battles provide some fun options for local or online play. If you’re a Naruto fan, the genuine recreation of the source material will be more than enough to satisfy you. If you aren’t, you’ll likely be confused by this one.