While many titles easily fall into the fighting genre, there are plenty of games out there that make use of common fighting conventions, but still remain largely ignored by the vast majority of genre-loyal players. One notable series that is often overlooked is Ultimate Ninja Storm, which is based off the popular Naruto franchise. These games combine beautiful cel-shaded art, a cast of characters that are easily recognizable, and battles that unfold in a manner that positively bleeds anime–in a good way–all while offering up plenty of the best aspects of our genre of choice.
Ultimate Ninja Storm provides players with the strategic depth of standard fighting games, but removes complicated combos and setups. These features, which fighting veterans undoubtedly love, ultimately work as a barrier preventing the entry of new players into the scene. In my personal experience, I’ve encountered difficulty getting friends into fighting games and have often wished for a way to bridge the gap between non-fighting titles and those that make the Evo lineup. Divekick has proven successful in this endeavor in some cases, but the single hit losses and often frenetic game play–while appealing to a great number of players from outside of the fighting game community–can just as easily put up the same wall as high execution requirements.
The first thing that any fighting game veteran will notice when stepping into Hidden Leaf Village for the first time is the simplistic combo system. If they want, they can mash the attack button to chain together a flashy string of hits and drain their opponent’s health. There are no fancy directional inputs or various strengths of attack to choose from–though there is a dedicated ranged attack button which some characters can use for ranged auto combos–just a simple button that leads to simple combos.
This combo system is akin to what you can find in Persona 4 Arena, though while Persona’s feature can, in some cases, work as a functional piece of larger combos, the Naruto combo system remains markedly more simplistic. Certainly, assists can be called and dash cancels can be used for combo extensions, but you won’t find yourself Tiger Kneeing any Dragon Punch inputs or worrying about landing a successful series of one-frame links to put a stylish end to your opponent.
So without a complicated combo system, what can you expect from this series? At the most basic level, fights revolve around proper use of your evasive maneuver (kawarimi). This mechanic lets players escape combos or, if timed correctly, avoid the first hit of a combo entirely and put themselves at advantage. This combo breaker resets a negative situation to a neutral one, but if your opponent is prepared, they can chakra dash to chase you down and put you into yet another combo. You can, of course, block this attack or escape in a number of other ways, but if you run out of resources, you’re going to eat a huge combo and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. This creates a bluffing system that adds depth to the matches and allows for advanced tactics much like managing bursts in airdashers.
While I would call kawarimi the core feature of the game, there are a number of other systems at play that work on top of the ease of combo execution to provide a well-rounded fighting experience: guard breaks, assists of varying types, parries, ring outs, a unique method for building super meter, and plenty more features combine to make a game that’s got a lot more going on beneath the surface than might immediately meet the eye.
Of course, if you’re a fan of the Naruto series, you’ll be pleased to discover that an impressive amount of the cast is not only represented in the game, but also playable. Additionally, you’ll find a lengthy story mode complete with voice acting and appropriate battles to keep you immersed in the action when human opponents aren’t around.
Interestingly enough, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the most pirated game in Oklahoma according to Movoto. Sure, that’s only a single state, but taking into account that no other fighting game made the list (and that it was facing off against heavy hitters like Watch Dogs and entries in the Elder Scrolls series), you should have no problem finding someone to spar with.
Witty Gamer has provided an in-depth video introduction to the game’s mechanics as well some match footage to give you an idea of how the fights flow. Are games from the Naruto series for everyone? Certainly not, but if the videos pique your interest, there’s no reason not to give them a try.
[Note: All information presented in this article, as well as the videos from Witty Gamer, refer to Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. There has since been another recent addition to the series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution, which added new characters, new game modes, and new story elements, but left core gameplay mechanics intact.]