Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst
If you’re committed enough to get through reading a title of the above length, chances are you’re already a fan of the source anime. Therefore none of these words are likely to affect your purchase of the game. Which is fine. You’ll also know that Burst is the enhanced re-release of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and comes with an additional chapter, a new playable character and loads of extra costumes and tweaked cinematics.
However, for those new to Naruto-land, what does the gameplay experience actually entail? Well, starting with the game’s main story mode, we get a lot of lovingly animated cut-scenes (and they are beautiful to look at) and expository voiceover delivered in a hushed, reverent tone. We then get thrown right into the action as the monstrous Nine Tails attacks the Hidden Leaf Village. Taking control of the central hero, you get to choose whether you take on the Legendary or Heroic route. This affects the amount of reward points that you get but very often does not impact upon the storyline, since if you make a choice that is different to the series history, the game often sends you back to get the ‘proper’ outcome.
The combat itself sometimes takes the form of a 1v1 arena scrap with a stylish (but slightly impractical) camera angle. You flit between long range and close up attacks in conjunction with a power-up gauge that offers other, more impressive techniques. Augmenting these are a couple of items you start the battle with, which can be deployed as you see fit.
Then there are the group-style battles, such as the Leaf village defending itself against the Nine Tails. During these you get a mix of platforming sections (to get in close enough for a melee attack) quick time events (called interactive action scenes – the quicker your input the greater the reward – actually well implemented) and yet more cut-scenes.
All of it is done with a visual flair and panache, but it feels ultimately hollow. For example, the 1v1 fights don’t seem to deviate from the long/short range set up and there are no multiple button press moves to remember. Fights also differ very little regardless of the characters involved. The group battles most entertaining aspect is actually the quick-time events, which is certainly not a good sign. Again, attacks in the group battles are a simple case of getting into position and mashing the button of choice. If we’re looking at the depth of combat, it’s really only paddling pool territory here.
In the story mode these events are linked by an RPG-lite section that introduces the central characters in a simple breezily efficient style, helped by their distinctive personalities. In wandering about and completing tasks you can earn tools that can be used on the battlefield. Alas, it feels a bit like padding due to the largely illusory sense of an open world and the limiting nature of the tasks on offer. The game feels more like a set of battles linked by a basic overarching story, while the RPG framework appears to be just a means of advancing the plot from location to location, rather than a core gameplay feature in its own right.
More troublesome is the lack of a tutorial. You get thrown into the fighting without so much as a word of explanation about how your powers work, or how the gauge system is used. The game makes the assumption that you have played one of the many earlier instalments and are therefore tickety-boo with practically zero instruction. With a few simple steps the game could have made things a whole lot easier without hand-holding.
Since the Naruto series has been running since 1999 it would seem unreasonable to expect the game to explain away the entire lore and backstory. In fairness, it has a good try during the installation load screen, but since I got bored and went off for a cup of tea this seems like a bit of a moot point.
To sum up
Burst is something of an oddity; an action game whose main strengths lie away from the combat. The incredibly striking visuals and brilliantly conceived cut-scenes make the interactive movie aspect of this title it’s strongest draw; this is sort of damning with faint praise. Fans will no doubt get a kick of interacting with their favourite characters. Everyone else will admire the visuals, but wonder where the game is.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst is out now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.