Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a return to form for the anime fighting series, acting as a satisfying end for fans of the popular Shounen anime and manga series. I was recently invited by Namco Bandai to preview the PlayStation 4 build of the game before its release on the 5th of February, experiencing its flashy visuals, colossal battles and grand cast of characters.One of the first things you noticed when playing the game is its accurate sound design and flash graphics. From the sound of leaves rustling in the air mimicking a ninja blissfully dashing through a forest to the exaggerated hissing of the character swiftly moving their hands to activate their special technique, a justu; it all feels very reminiscent of the Japanese animation. Battles are particularly flashy and lovably cheesy, with streams of light and vector lines covering the screen before a close-up of a character shouting the name of their colourful attack. Each character’s costuming, attacks and movement feels distinct even despite some characters having multiple forms available at the character select screen.
Some of the most spectacular moments I experienced in my short hour and a half with the game weren’t from standard battles with other ninja however, but with the colossal creatures known as the Tailed Beasts. Naruto, having the Nine-Tailed Fox sealed inside him, is able to transform into the creature; and playing as the tailed beast is often vastly different to the fighting component of the game. One fight with the ominous ten tailed beast foresaw me dodge balls of lighting and the creature’s giant claws in an effort to find a place to hide from it. Regardless of how gimmicky these encounters may feel, they didn’t happen often enough for me to feel dissatisfied and were a nice change of pace – it also helps that they bring out the game’s graphics with splashes of bright colours and explosions.There are three distinct modes in Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 – story, adventure and versus – and each offer a different style of gameplay. In Story Mode, players experience two contrasting storylines following the series’ protagonists, Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha. Each mission begins and ends with a five to ten minute long cutscene of shots of iconic characters from the series, with a fight sequence based around said scene. For instance, one cutscene of Sasuke summoning past leaders of his village leads to a battle sequence in the form of a flashback, where the player must take control of the founder of the village and defeat the series’ main villain, Madara. As expected of a fighting game based on a hugely popular Japanese animation, the story is confusing to newcomers but rewarding to fans, and dense with gigantic action scenes.
Players can also explore the world of Naruto in Adventure Mode. Adventure mode is much like any open world role playing game as players create a team of ninja from a select group of characters and complete missions assigned by some of the series’ popular characters, such as Naruto’s former teacher, Kakashi. One quest in particular, required me to venture out of Naruto’s hometown and travel to the Sand Village to help an old friend, suggesting the game’s sense of scale and exploration.Versus mode offers a classic approach to the fighting genre, giving players the option of competing against artificial intelligence or other players either locally or online. There are a variety of battle modes in Versus, including the classic styled ‘VS’ and tournament modes, and a survival mode, where players must defeat as many enemies as they can with one health bar. The game’s playable cast is impressively huge with over 130 characters despite some being alternate versions of main characters – such as a child form of Naruto or adult form of Sakura.
In battles, players can take control of a single fighter or create a team of three. In a team, one character is used as the main fighter with the other two used as support; support characters can tag into battle and use their special technique before the player must wait a few seconds for the support gauge to be recharged.
Each character in battle has a designated health, chakra, support and substitution bar. Chakra is essentially your character’s mana bar, and is needed to activate your character’s jutsu while the substitution bar allows the player to switch themselves with a plank of wood or log before an enemy strikes, dodging the attack entirely – players can substitute themselves three times before the bar must be charged. Players can also use items such as bombs or recovery or status enhancing drugs by pressing the D-Pad, as well as throw projectiles and charge their chakra with the square and triangle buttons respectively.
Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is expected to release on the 5th of February for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.