Naruto himself is a constantly moving ball of volatile energy. Thus, Ninja Storm 2's Adventure mode would be so much improved if it would just cut down on all the walking.
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Format: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Game Title: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: 2010-10-19
I can accept this: a Naruto game can hardly be called a Naruto game without some kind of overwrought, highly dramatic story attached to it. It's the nature of Naruto the series, not to mention Naruto the character, to be highly dramatic about pretty much everything, and as I've played a few Naruto games over the last few years, it's an aspect of the series that I've learned to enjoy. Naruto himself is a constantly moving ball of volatile energy, eternally wearing his heart on his sleeve and letting his eagerness get the best of him. As the rest of these games revolve around him, his extreme emotions and constant need to keep moving (hopefully making life better for someone in the process) drive the entire series.
As such, it was with little surprise that I took in the wall of dialogue that establishes the story of the "Ultimate Adventure" mode of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, a surprising amount for a fighting game, maybe, but not for a Naruto game. All of the exposition between the relatively quick fights (usually under two minutes, unless you're fighting a particularly nasty boss) gives the game a lurching sort of flow, but the “between play” scenes never feel slow, as much as they feel a little long.
No, what really breaks up the play is all of the walking around.
I haven't played the first Ninja Storm game in this series, so forgive me if I'm treading old ground here, but the biggest failing of Ninja Storm 2 is the attempt to shoehorn an adventure game into a fighting game. By "adventure game", of course, I mean "game in which characters spend the majority of their time walking".
In Ninja Storm 2, you walk to every fight. As you walk to every fight, you can talk to many of the people you pass. Most of them say nothing of consequence. Some give you some some stuff to do. The stuff usually involves more walking, and maybe a fight, followed by more walking. There is one story related stretch toward the beginning of the game in which a team that includes Naruto starts at his hometown Leaf Village, spends a fair amount of time traversing the game's surprisingly large world in order to get to the Sand Village, and gets into a pair of quick fights. After the second of these fights, the player is suddenly jumped back to the Leaf Village to take control of another party of characters to whom we have been minimally introduced. Nevertheless, the player is again asked to take that party all the way from the Leaf Village to the Sand Village, traversing the exact same set of environments that you just did. Not only that, but most of the people that you meet along the way say the exact same thing to this new set of people as they did to the first team.
This is not the way to sell a game as an adventure. All this feels like is unnatural padding for what, with its excessively wordy story and its also excessive amounts of walking, becomes an incredibly long gaming experience. Even something so simple as quick travel, à la Fable, would go a long way here.
As buildup to the fights, however, all of the downtime is admittedly effective; it's easy to start wondering whether you're enjoying the fights so much because the action is legitimately fast and the controls are legitimately tight, or if you're just thankful for something fast-paced to do after all of the walking and talking. Thankfully, there are modes aside from the Ultimate Adventure that'll help you figure out the answer, modes in which all you do is fight.
Of particular note is the game's online play, an experience that is (predictably) enhanced by surviving the trudge through the Adventure. The more you do in the Adventure mode, the more characters you have to use, the more profile pictures you can have, and the more customization that you are allowed for your online profile. Not that it will matter, because most of the people playing online have figured out how to use Diedara or Sage Naruto to spam the hell out of their opponents, and you better have thought of a countermeasure or you're destined to fall flat on your face. Only the most skilled players can counter such tactics, but once you figure out a way to take on one of these cheapest of cheap players, taking them out can be quite satisfying. Still, it makes for a fairly shallow online experience, unless you play against players who haven't figured out the repetitive techniques that will quickly lead to trophies.
This abuse of multiplayer unfortunately doesn't leave the player with much to judge; after all, the artificial intelligence doesn't spam, so the fighting experience is oddly improved by not playing against human players. In a strange way, this does enhance the Ultimate Adventure mode, but only insofar as you know that you'll be getting the best the game has to offer when you finally do end up in a fight.
As far as licensed Naruto products go, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is actually not bad -- fans of the series will likely eat up the huge story that the game offers, and the fights offer the chance to play as any number of Naruto regulars. Still, the extremely, egregiously uneven pacing of the game makes it hard to recommend -- especially at this time of year -- when there are so many games out there that do the adventure thing so much better than this one.