IGN Review of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact
I must confess that prior to writing this review I never gave Naruto, as an entity, a fair chance -- due mostly to the derision directed at it by my friends during their fits of anime snobbery. But I couldn't deny the dirty truth I was hiding: deep in my heart, buried between my nostalgia for the Tenchi Muyo TV series and my budding love for K-pop, a burning desire to dive headlong into the Naruto franchise was brewing.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact ended up being all the trigger I needed. Despite its repetitive combat and poor enemy AI, it serves as a gateway drug for Naruto newcomers.
Ultimate Ninja Impact follows the titular anime series from beginning to end, hitting the series' highlights along the way. The core gameplay owes much to Dynasty Warriors, dropping you into 1 vs. 100 style beat 'em up battles on open playing fields. The main campaign offers a sizable 20 hours of content, during which you get to play as, and level up, a huge cast of colorful characters while collecting and equipping stat enhancing cards to further augment their abilities. If you're not in the mood for a lot of exposition and dialogue, you can head over to the Extra and Tag Mission modes and get right to the clobberin', either on your own or with a buddy over ad hoc.
Right from the title screen, I found Ultimate Ninja Impact's use of the Naruto franchise impressive. The menus, the world map and the dialogue scenes are all saturated with sights and sounds that feel right at home in the Naruto universe. Well produced English and Japanese language tracks round out the package and helped to fully immerse me in the game's plot.
While Naruto and Sasuke get the most spotlight, the game does a good job of incorporating the stories of other characters as well, and makes them surprisingly compelling to boot. I found myself so invested in some of them that I'm honestly chomping at the bit to meet them during my now inevitable Naruto viewing marathon.
This respectful treatment of the source material carries over into combat where each character's signature moves are put on beautiful display with fluid animations and the same vibrant color palette that Naruto is known for. As you Rasengan waves and waves of enemy ninjas into the next zip code, other characters chime in with their thoughts and observations on the situation at hand. While these can start repeating during longer battles, they help maintain the tone of the plot between story sequences. It kept me focused on the task at hand, even when I felt like I was doing the same thing as I did last mission and the mission before that.
Naruto Shippuden gave me that feeling quite often. While the game offers up a lot of content in both the main and extra modes, the shallow, repetitive nature of the combat devalues that content a bit. Don't get me wrong, unleashing awesome looking secret techniques on hordes of hapless foes felt immensely entertaining and made me feel like a real Jinchuriki badass, but the constantly recycled battles and mission objectives started giving me deja vu pretty quickly.
The poor, occasionally broken enemy AI didn't help either, especially within the large groups of lesser enemies you fight constantly. Not only do they sport very little variety, but they also appear to have an aversion to violence. Even when surrounded by a hundred or more foes, I could safely sit there and charge up my chakra, bake a cake, or simply stare off into space, secure in the knowledge that I probably wouldn't be attacked.
Speaking of staring off into space, that's what the enemy archers in this game love to do most. Once per battle I would find a group of them clustered together doing nothing but glaring at me catatonically, waiting to be granted the gift of artificial intelligence so that they may do something other than look on as I slaughtered them and their comrades. Alas, their gift would never come.
The sub-boss and boss characters fared better in this regard, aggressively pressing the attack and utilizing their own set of flashy, damaging jutsu techniques. Though definitely more challenging, they all felt very similar to one another and were repeated a few too many times each. After beating the same sub-boss for the third time in the same level, his constant protestations against my ever being able to defeat him started to ring a little hollow, especially since he was using the same tactics as the last 3 jokers before him. While none of these flaws kept the combat from being fun, they did prevent it from being as deep and rewarding as it could have, and should have been.
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