Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution (henceforth referred to only as Naruto Shippuden: UNSR) is a pleasant surprise of a fighting game. Based on the ridiculously popular Naruto manga and anime, the game is a pretty straightforward example of the genre, pitting character against character in brief battles. There’s a bit more to it, but the basic idea is that players can choose their favorite characters from the anime and fight other characters using ninja techniques unique to each.
Disclaimer: I love Naruto. I’ve gone through ups and downs with it, and these days I only check in once every two or three years to see where the story is going, but I really do love Naruto—I’ve been a fan for more than 10 years. The story’s emphasis on friendship, hard work, and hope even in dark situations got me through some tough times when I was a kid. It’s also just a cool story about ninjas and the awesome ninja stuff they do.
I can also confidently say that a lot of my fun with Naruto Shippuden: UNSR stemmed from this long-lasting adoration. That isn’t to say that folks unfamiliar with the premise won’t get something out of the game—the mechanics are brilliant, and the animation is quite lovely—but familiarity added some important context to what is fundamentally a simple fighting game.
Naruto Shippuden: UNSR’s gameplay isn’t very unique, except in its animation. However, the battles are quick, fluid, and exciting. I rarely felt bogged down with a character. Even when I just repeatedly pressed the attack button (honestly, I’m not too good with special combos), the game changed up the way my character attacked to make it interesting. Each character has special moves based on their unique ninja abilities from the show, but they also have unique fighting styles that come through in their movements. The attention to detail introduced diversity to the battles, adding replayability, but it also gave me the sense that these were the real characters, not just anonymous fighters wearing their faces.
For those who aren’t up on the Naruto world, the ninjas have different ways of approaching battle based on their clans, their families, their teachers, or abilities unique unto themselves—and when I say unique, I mean unique. For instance, one character uses paper maché to build explosives that resemble animals. He was born with a special ability—mouths on his hands (one of the grosser parts of the game)—and can wet paper to make these bombs on the spot. The paper maché animal bombs actually behave as animals—birds fly, snakes slither—and the character thus spends a lot of time sending out his creations rather than engaging in direct battle. Other characters specialize in healing, or illusions, or puppetry, or brute force. Thus, the game attempts to mimic these aspects of the characters’ fighting styles with special combos that are often visually quite intense. I had to change up my play style based on what character I had chosen, and once I’d gotten good at it, switching foes made me change my ways again.
There are three different options you can choose for individual battles. I won’t go into the details, but some characters favored some options over others, adding another layer of complexity to the battle system. You can also add secondary fighters to your team and summon them to your aid if you choose to do so, in the spirit of the three-man teams that are the norm in the Naruto world.
There are four modes you can play in: Free Battle, where players can simply battle one another (or the computer) freely; Online Battle, where they can battle online players; Ninja World Tournament, a mildly storified mode where you can wander an island and work your way up through the tournament ranks by engaging in four-person battles; and Ninja Escapades, the actual story mode. Free Battle also includes Practice mode, where players can simply work out their combos and character moves on an enemy without worrying about being attacked.
Ninja Escapades is a three-part story mode wherein each battle is book-ended by animated cutscenes. Each of the three parts is based on different scenarios from the original anime. The scenes show events and conversations that happened in the original story, but that the audience wasn’t privy to. For instance, the first part features the members of the evil organization, Akatsuki. The player takes the part of different Akatsuki members in turn, and must do battle in order to recruit more sketchy individuals into the club, so to speak.
The cutscenes are long. They are skippable, thankfully (a fun fact I didn’t find out till well into the game—picking up where you left off will put you back at the beginning of a half-hour cutscene session, so skipping is essential). If I wasn’t a fan of the Naruto series, I think they would have dragged on my attention span to the point of no return. There is very little in the way of character introduction or story setup, and the original material is dense enough that it would be near impossible to catch the player up. The compromise was to simply forgo any deep story and focus on immaterial scenes that the audience can basically understand without any previous knowledge—which makes it a little uninspiring, unless you’re there for the familiar characters. I imagine that someone coming into this world for the first time would have no comprehension of what was happening and who it was happening to, and thus little motivation to find out what happens next.
I didn’t hate the Ninja Escapades. What I liked about them is that they were true to the original story and characters, (including the animation studio and voice acting from the anime), and not just irrelevant extras. For those who are already fans of the series, they’re a pleasant addition to the canon. Unfortunately, for those who aren’t, they’re ultimately not worth the time it takes to sit through them (though the battles themselves are interesting).
The Ninja World Tournament mode was also a bit of a letdown—again, the battles were great, but the story was dull. In this mode, players can choose a character to enter into the tournament. They then find themselves on an island, where they must run around and speak to organizers in order to enter battle events and work their way up the ranks to become the ultimate winner of the tournament. While you can speak to most NPCs milling around, none of them have anything interesting to say, and I would’ve preferred somewhat smaller maps to run around in.
One positive for me was that players can switch between English and Japanese with (or without) subtitles for all spoken aspects of the game. The written instructions will remain in English. This can be pretty essential for fans who have grown up with one or the other language track, as well as a cool bonus for Japanese learners and speakers.
This probably gets to the heart of what made Naruto Shippuden: UNSR really work for me. The animation strongly resembles the actual cell-shaded, 2D animation that Japanese anime is known for, even in the three-dimensional environments the battles take place in. The battles are fluid and fast-paced, as ninja battles should be. The angles are cinematic, even in the midst of a fight, but rarely confusing, excepting when two characters wearing similar outfits are pitted against one another. The animation is visually impressive to say the least.
Another positive was the presence of non-sexually objectified (for the most part) female heroines to choose from. A lot of fighting games tend to feature women fighters wearing scant clothing who pose in sexual or overly cutesy ways; the dialogue, too, is often sexual or flirtatious in nature. This game stayed away from the trend, however, and the female fighters are just as tough and interesting as the guys in your roster.
Masashi Kishimoto, the original writer and artist of the Naruto manga from which the anime and video games are based, was consulted in the making of Naruto Shippuden: UNSR. The presence of the man behind it all certainly legitimizes the character design and aesthetic of the game, making it even more of a treat for fans of the story.
Appropriateness for Kids
The game is rated T, but several aspects of the gameplay lead me to recommend it to younger kids, provided they can handle the fast pace and coordination needed to play. First of all, parents can choose to turn off violent imagery in the settings. I’ll be honest here, I didn’t notice much of a difference when toggling back and forth, because there wasn’t really much violent imagery to begin with. While the characters are obviously fighting one another, the battles are bloodless and deathless, at least in Free Battle and the Ninja World Tournament. Each battle is presented more as a sparring session, a test of skill and power, than a fight to the death. There is some very mild sexual content—a 12-year-old uses “sexy no jutsu” to summon a gaggle of giggling, scantily clad ladies to distract his foes—but it’s played as a joke and nothing more.
In the Ninja Escapades—the story mode—there is some more mature content, to be sure. Scenes show a man removing his own eye, one character discusses killing people as sacrifices to his evil god, and the characters are, in general, quite intimidating. Even there, however, the violence is bloodless, sometimes to the point of weirdness; generally removing one’s own eye really shouldn’t be so clean and painless. I’d hazard a guess that most kids wouldn’t be too interested in the story mode anyway—it’s a little dense and involves a lot of long talking scenes that don’t make much sense if you haven’t been keeping up with the Naruto anime, which is far more violent in the first place. The main takeaway is that the violence is never visually represented, nor is it interactive.
It’s a great game for playing co-op. Battles are short but exciting, and players can sit down for as long as they like without worrying about save points or online buddies. Because it’s so lacking in brutality, the game is a good option for parents who have younger kids in the house, or those who would rather just avoid the bloody battles and sexualized characters that are endemic to the fighting game genre. And, for kids who like Naruto? Naruto Shippuden: UNSR is a great addition to a wonderful story.
Fans of fighting games, fans of Naruto, and parents looking for something exciting to sit down and play with their families will all enjoy Naruto Shippuden: UNSR. There’s plenty there for non-fans of the original series, while fans will enjoy the extra content and attention to detail in the game.