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Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 PS3 surprised me with how deep an interactive cartoon combat and exploration can be. Being a ninja can be an exciting if sometimes difficult pastime.
Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is at root a 3D fighting game with a narrative between each fight. This didn't bode well as fighting games and I don't mix - I'd sooner be exploring new environments than building the muscle memory required to succeed in situations where counting frames determine your win-loss ratio. Naruto is also full of strange words like Jutsu and Hokage, giving it an even greater aura of impenetrability.
But after spending some time with this latest Naruto game, it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience, with a whole new set of genuine characters to get to know.
Naruto began life as a Japanese Manga series in 1997 and has since been released in a variety of media - anime, films and games. Naruto is a young boy training to become a ninja unwittingly harbouring a nine-tailed fox demon inside himself - put there to prevent it from wreaking havoc on the world (ed: just your everyday childhood then). Because I've played the first few minutes of many Naruto games I have seen this origin story lots of times, but it's repeated here for new comers.
We join events as Naruto continues his quest to become the most powerful warrior in Hidden Leaf Village and his impetuous nature once again looks like it will lead to trouble.
The game play is broken up into exploration and the fight sequences, providing for both extremely frenetic action and pleasantly paced exploration. I love games that allow you to just explore their worlds between the action, and here the towns and villages give Naruto a role playing feel with their shops and side quests.
Completing quests lets you earn money to spend on weapons or items that provide stat boosts to aide you during fights. You can also collect plants, seeds and junk around the environment to craft new more powerful items, which as usual I got quite addicted to. It wasn't so much the crafting, but more about the frantic searching for that one new extract that I'd never come across before that kept me exploring every inch of each new area.
Though barely a game, the presentation drew me into the characters and the worsening situation on the station.
Of course, the real star of the Naruto show are the battles. Unlike my previous experience though, instead of the repetitive grind of low level encounters each one now feels more like a boss battle in its own right.
I know there is depth to the combat, but I was in the mood for mashing buttons and surprisingly seemed to be winning most of the time - at least during the early battles. The strategy comes from using the combos effectively while being ready to dodge and call in your partner at the most opportune moment.
The fact that such impressive looking combos can be pulled off with very little in the way of skill is genius for those that just want to play the game and feel like the Ultimate Ninja from the title. It's not just imputing the same command and getting the same output either since there is a lot of scripting during the battles. At any moment I might leap into the air and unleash a sandstorm on my opponent or smash the ground to make a crater deep enough to hold water.
These moments are punctuated by Quick Time Events, but because failure is so lenient I didn't find them frustrating. For those that are interested in the challenge each battle is scored and that elusive S-Rank is available if you know your Jutsu from your Chakra.
These battles do ramp up in difficulty quite considerably and at a certain point, after having a complete blast, my enthusiasm began to stumble. I just couldn't work out the strategy required and my blows became flesh on granite in their effectiveness. Some feedback on what I was doing wrong would have been helpful, letting me continue to participate in the gorgeously produced visuals.
The prospect of what I'd missed was always tantalising.
Outside of these explosive episodes, I also began to grow weary of running around the scenery. Presented as a set of 2D painted scenes you flip between, their traversal eventually becomes a pain. The save points are scattered very liberally though and so I regularly played for just a few moments, perhaps just beating one opponent in each session.
Once you're finished on the singleplayer quest line there is multiplayer mode including full online support, but these are just limited to the fighting elements. Characters that you unlock in the story mode become available for multiplayer fights and you can even just repeat fights against the AI, if you're going for a better score.
I found Naruto both surprising and charming with its mixture of interactive anime look and satisfying combat and story. The fights eventually became a little too difficult but by then, I had been entertained for hours with some spectacular encounters. Playing a boy Ninja was more fun than I ever thought it would be because of some clever game design that made me feel every bit the hero in 20 minutes bursts.
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