Platform PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC Genre Action
Developer CyberConnect 2 Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform Played Xbox One
Up until this point, the Ultimate Ninja Storm games have done a wonderful job of producing the look and feel of the Naruto Shippuden anime series in video game format. Players have been able to duke it out in highly stylised death matches that have been very faithful to the show. With Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, CyberConnect 2 really has saved the best for last – sorry for the cliché, but it’s necessary in this circumstance. There is a wealth of content for Naruto fans in this outing, including some of the most entertaining Story mode sections that conclude the story of the series, and combat, refined over several games, which hits a climax.
If you’ve played any of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games, you know what you’re getting into in terms of story and gameplay. The Story mode retells the story of the Naruto Shippuden anime, this time starting from the midst of the Fourth Great Ninja War, and progressing until the conclusion of the narrative (something the anime has yet to do). Cutscenes are broken up by player controlled fights, of which there seem to be more this time around. Either that, or the developers have finally worked out how to make the pacing work. The bigger, important fights often end in flashy quick time event sequences that made me prefer watching the story play out in the game rather than the anime because of how awesome these sequences are. It’s basically an abridged version of the anime, keeping all of the important elements and leaving out mostly everything else because the developers know you’ve probably already watched them if you wanted to.
The one downside to the Story is the way the first third of the game is portrayed. Rather than the beautifully 3D animated in-engine cutscenes that the latter two thirds use, most of the first third plays out through static images from the anime, with voice over. It’s boring. Yes, part of that is due to the source material dragging on at this period in the narrative, but the decision to use static images outside of flashbacks is puzzling because of how gorgeous the animated in-engine cutscenes are.
The art style is distinct, with the cel-shaded look giving it an anime feel, while keeping the visuals unique. Everything on screen was a joy to watch, and it’s evident that the team at CyberConnect 2 has put the new console hardware to good use in the graphics department. Despite the visual effects of the various ninja moves – referred to as jutsu – looking fabulous, it’s the little details that push this game over the line. From the dust and particles that move around on the battlefields, to the noticeable scratches and tears on character models as the story, and even individual battles, progresses. There has been a lot of attention to detail this time around, and it really adds to the scope that is being portrayed. These are powerful ninjas doing battle, and it’s all captured and represented perfectly for fans.
When you’re not watching cutscenes, you’ll be fighting in Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. While keeping to the series’ roots, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 makes some great additions that further improve the gameplay. Firstly, playing the game by yourself is much more enjoyable now. The computer controlled fighters are more aggressive, actively dashing towards you and attacking rather than waiting for you to initiate. The hardest difficulty, super hard, is not a push over either as it was in previous games (at least that’s what I found). It’s great for players who tend to play the game by themselves, and there are also a nice variety of game modes and characters to keep combat entertaining.
One of the best things about the Ultimate Ninja Storm series is how simple combat is. There are no tricky combos to master, with each character using the same buttons to attack. The only difference is in the animation, or the type of attack when jutsu are involved. It means any Naruto fan can pick up the game and feel like a powerful ninja.
Furthermore, with Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 CyberConnect 2 has made combat feel even more like the anime due to a tweaking of the support system. Previously, support characters were just that, you pressed a button and they would appear on screen momentarily to help out your chosen fighter. However, now support characters can be switched in with your main character, meaning each one can become the main fighter. This switch can be made mid-combo, making fighting even more stylistic now as you string together multiple attacks from multiple ninja. It was extremely satisfying seeing Naruto start a combo, to then switch in Sasuke for more of a beatdown, and finally bring Sakura in for a big finish.
The correct combination of teammates can also lead to new combination special techniques. Special techniques are essentially finishing moves which deal a massive amount of damage to the enemy. If you fill your support bar up during a fight, and have the right combination of fighters, you’ll be able to use a combination special technique. For example, have Naruto and Sasuke on your team and you’ll combine their Rasengan and Chidori just like in the anime. The Naruto narrative has always emphasised friendship and teamwork since its beginning in the early 2000s, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 has finally expressed it. It makes team composition as important as ever, and I still find myself using different combinations of characters to see what the results are.
However, the aforementioned simplicity can also be seen as one of the game’s downfalls. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s combat, can feel a bit too simple after prolonged play. I often found myself using the same string of moves in a combo, despite trying to move the left stick in different directions to do different attacks. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 introduced a timing system wherein holding the attack button down would power-up your next attack in the combo and create a change in pace, but it appears to have been done away with here.
Moreover, in the Story mode, enemy controlled characters do not appear to have limits on how often they can use the substitution jutsu to escape attacks. In other modes, both the player and computer have four substitutions before the skill has to cooldown to avoid spamming it, but some battles in the Story mode never allowed me to build any momentum because the computer kept substituting out of combos.
The other minor issue with combat is that it can get very chaotic when all support characters have been called in at once. With six characters on the field, jutsus are flying across the screen and exploding, and it’s difficult to keep track of your character’s whereabouts. However, this isn’t a hardcore fighter so it’s hard to emphasise this as a critique, especially because I was in awe every time the barrage of colours filled the screen.
Performance wise, there were a couple of times when the game’s frame rate dropped. This mainly happened during the few fights where you’re using Naruto’s tailed beast or Sasuke’s Sasuno’o in Story mode. It also happened a couple of time when exploring the open-world areas in Adventure mode, but I didn’t notice it in normal combat which is where a constant frame rate is most important. The frame rate drops were only minor, and tended to slow movements down rather than making the game unplayable.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is the best game in the series by far. The developers have been improving the combat ever so slightly with each new iteration, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is clearly the pinnacle of that. The new support features make battles feel bigger and more impactful, with characters utilising teamwork more so than ever before. It’s also the best looking Ninja Storm game to date, with combat and the 3D animated cutscenes looking superb and stylistic. While the first third of the Story mode suffers from poor source material and the use of static images, the final two thirds provide a satisfying conclusion to the much loved saga, and it’s especially great for fans who may have stopped watching the anime because of it’s dragged out state. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is packed with content, from a variety of game modes to the massive roster of playable fighters. As a Naruto fan for many years, I can attest that this is the game and love letter to the franchise we’ve been waiting for.
- Well paced narrative provides satisfying end to the series
- New support mechanics make combat the best in the series
- Visuals look stunning, especially when characters are using jutsus
- AI is much more aggressive and story mode fights last longer due to more health on enemies
- Use of static images from anime to tell too much of the narrative
- Some minor frame rate drops during tailed beast/ summoning fights
- Combat can feel repetitive after a while due to simplicity