Well, let’s get some of the ground work out of the way. If you’re a fan of Naruto Shippuden, you shouldn’t be here, you should be visiting your nearest retailer, physical or digital, to grab your copy. For everyone else, here we go.
While I am very aware of the anime, I’ve never sat down to watch an episode, that being said, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 tries its very hardest to tempt me, and I was tempted. Mainly so I could have a shred of a clue about what’s going on and to know who’s who.
What I truly loved to see is the sheer amount of energy this game puts out. Nothing is ever low-key; it’s all over the top and bombastic. It’s hard to not crack a smile or laugh at the absurdity of ninjas throwing masses of rock the size of a small moon at each other. The art style here makes these scenes flourish and visually, it’s a great game. It’s clear that there’s a lot of love here, not that I can attest to the accuracy of the narrative, but I just get the feeling that the people behind this really enjoyed themselves.
The story mode isn’t going to run you very long and it pushes you back into the fight if you die, like it’s hurrying you to the next bit. You’ll be revived on the spot with max health and a damage or defence boost of your choice while keeping your enemy at the same health if you die. Although that’s not really a complaint since starting over would be agonizing because more often than not, you’re fighting the main antagonist, over and over and over, ad nauseam. It really becomes a slog. This is probably where being a fan will help, because otherwise you’re just kind of waiting for the drawn out cutscenes to finish playing.
The fights are fantastic, thanks to some huge spectacles and over-the-top special attacks. They’re easily the best things about Ninja Storm 4—as they should be. Fighting is fluid and stylish, while sometimes it can feel like waiting for someone to run out of substitutions (a move that dodges the attack and places you behind your foe) and there are some serious balancing issues, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun. The only frustrations you’ll run into are AI characters that will dance away from every attack and instead focus on using long-distance attacks. It’s near impossible to enjoy these matches as you try to catch up with an enemy constantly just out of reach. The roster is huge, with over a hundred characters, so you’re certain to find your favourite from the show and run wild.
When you’re done with the story mode, you can always hop on over to the adventure mode, Which is mostly some single-player busy work. Play as Naruto and friends as you explore the ninja world, completing little quests, doing battles, and reminiscing about the past. Again, here’s where being a fan will take you far. There’s a very unfortunate missed opportunity though, as characters reflect on past battles, it’s up to the player to win the fight. However, after a loss, you’re pulled back to the present wherein you get some dialogue. I then thought that my loss became canon within this world, within my version of events and I thought that was really neat. Except I was wrong, and that was basically a glorified restart button. Going forward, don’t lose those battles, you’ll have to load, sit through some dialogue, load again, then fight. It’s not the greatest system.
Getting a friend in here for some crazy ninja action is probably where most of the fun is though. Being able to swap between three different characters keeps things fresh and fun and being able to call them in for support attacks helps keep the pressure on as you bear down on your opponent.
Taking it online, I didn’t experience too many issues regarding connection, but finding an opponent did take awhile.
While there’s plenty more that a true fan would get out of this experience, as a bystander, there’s not much of a draw here for me. It’s a perfectly serviceable game with a fun combat system that’s both flashy and stylish. But most of the service is wasted if you’re not already an invested fan of the franchise.