Who would win in a brawl: Naruto and his friends vs. You and your Facebook friends?
Naruto fans have had a lot of virtual Ramen goodness in the last few years thanks to the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series. All of the things that made the previous installments a great fighting game maintain in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, and it's gotten even better. Developer CyberConnect2 streamlined the fighting mechanics, added an insanely robust 70+ player lineup, and expanded the Online functions, evolving the series to Sage status. Add in the gutsy decision to have the studio responsible for making the anime create over 60 minutes of original animation (sadly, no extra Onbu stories), and you have a game that appeals to fans of the Storm series and modern fighters.
This better be a positive review Geek World!
The last entry, NS: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 was one of our favorite games of 2010, not just because we love Naruto (we really Love NARUTO!!!), but because it was made with the ultimate Naruto fan in mind. It tirelessly lead you through all of the major plot points of Naruto Shippuden, allowing you to battle all of the series greatest foes while screaming "Some day I will be the Hokage!!!" at your TV. A really great 3D fighter, you could easily implement super combos on your way to a wide array of special moves (Jutsus), while also having access to 4 preset ninja tools during battle. Most impressively for fans and fighters alike, along with blocking, you were able to use substitutions, which allow you to transport behind your enemy and attack while they're staring dumbfounded at a log.
One of the things we liked most about Generations is the Substitution Gauge. In the last entry both your jutsu's and substitutions dipped into your chakra gauge, meaning you needed to balance your need for last minute saves with the want to completely destroy your opponents circulatory system with your Rasen Shuriken. With Generations, substitution now has it's own gauge, letting you substitute up to 4 times before it needs to reload. For those that overdue substitutions this might be stifling, but it allows a new kind of strategic flow for both your needs and your opponents disadvantage.
Probably the biggest difference between Generations and NS: UNS2, is the story mode. As we previously stated, NS:UNS2 took you through all the best moments of Naruto Shippuden from A-Z, so much so that if you had never seen Naruto, it was sort of like a badass Cliff's notes edition. This linear storytelling accompanied by a RPG sensibility where you ran around different villages and hideouts collecting ingredients, doing mini missions and getting into huge fights was a really wonderful virtual environment for a Naruto fanatic. Generations, however, flips the script, letting you play several mini character arc's instead of one big story. Cyber Connect2 probably did this because A) there really isn't that much more story between The Pain Saga and the current episodes of Naruto Shippuden and B) You can't put out the same exact game as last time (unless you're Call of Duty).
This change in story telling comes in the mode of separate character sagas. Instead of playing Naruto's story like NS: UNS2, you choose the story lines of fan favorites like Naruto, Sasuke, Kakashi, Jiraiya, and even some less T-Shirt recognizable characters like Zabuza and Haku from Team 7's first adventure (you know Zabuza, he's the cool guy with the huge sword and socks on his arms). This is also a huge departure because you're no longer running around Leaf Village making friends and collecting stuff to make ninja pills. This time around you're watching animated cut scenes followed by fighting.
The best part about this approach, and one of the most amazing things about this game is that Namco Bandai hired Studio Pierrot, who makes the Naruto anime, to create 60 minutes of all new animated content for the game. This works on 2 levels, the first is that those of you who feel like you never see anything new from a licensed game will be pleasantly surprised by this (Some of the scenes with Jiraiya and the 4th Hokage are straight up awesome!), and secondly it appeases fans of the last game who might have hoped they retained the RPG elements.
Another way that Generations separates itself from the other Storm enteries is its insane abundance of playable characters. Over 70 playable characters are available for versus and online battles, from awesome new entries like Teen Kakashi, Danzo and the 1st Hokage to more esoteric characters like Obito. There's also 15 supporting characters, so if you ever dreamed of Darui or Chojuro having your back in battle, you're in luck!
All of these characters help make the online aspects of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations even more exciting. Online battle modes are split between Player Matches (it's all good fun, losing won't effect your rank) and Ranked Matches that effect your rank and battle points. Within these 2 modes you have one-on-one battles, Tournaments and Endless Battles, the later 2 including up to 8 players. In Tournament mode you can gain higher prizes based on the level of the host (IE higher level host, better prizes), and Endless allows you to fight a series of opponents.
One of the biggest editions to the online aspect of this game is the use of Ninja Info cards. These are customizable identification cards that have your rank and BP info, as well as a title (you win titles as you go along and can combine them, we're currently "The No.1 Knucklehead Sage") and a card image. The card image is the really big deal because they give you special abilities, everything from faster substitution gauge recovery to greater power on your Ultimate Jutsu. You acquire these cards in 3 ways, by earning them through play in any of the modes, by purchasing them at the store in the game, or most interesting, in the real world. A set of collectible cards sold separately called "Sage's Legacy" will allow you to buy packs of cards with codes that can be redeemed in the game to give you special abilities. Bonus, you can also use these cards in a Naruto trading card game (you know like Magic The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!)
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is great game for Naruto fans and people who are sick of the massive return of 2D fighters. The excellent idea to add new animated content makes it unique in a world where licensed games can feel boring. The tweaked fighting mechanics improve a solid base but don't change enough to alienate fans who already instinctively know the controls. With Generations, Cyberconnect2 left the RPG elements of NS:UNS2 and developed a fighter focused more on breath of characters and an overall history of the Naruto universe, making it desirable for a Naruto fan to play it along with it's Storm predecessors.
The online aspects add depth to the previous games, the new modes are cool and Ninja Info cards are a double edged sword, awesome in the way they enhance your abilities, but also following the recent popular trend of allowing players to pluck down extra cash on the chance to up their digital chakra (at least in this game you get cool collectible cards that can be used as their own game, unlike the COD Doritos XP campaign that just gave you type 2 diabetes). Overall we love the Storm series, Namco Bandai in cooperation with CyberConnect2 have made a solid representation of what we love about the Naruto series (thankfully leaving out the Curry of Life) and Generations is a great continuation of it.
Be sure to tune into the show Thursday & Friday at Noon on Indie 100 and on Friday at 6pm and throughout the week on The Point to hear more of our review of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations.