Article first published as Xbox 360 Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 on Blogcritics.
The "Naruto" anime series was first imported to the United States around eight years ago and while it’s not quite as popular has it has been it is still running strong. Namco announced last year that they’ve sold over 10 million copies of various "Naruto" games. A glance around the International Comic Con or the Anime Expo in Los Angeles, Calif. will confirm that the anime series and original manga still have a large number of fans. "Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3" is certainly more for those fans than the average gamer, though the series has made an admirable effort towards evolution.
For the uninitiated, the "Naruto" games are for the most part just fighting games and basic ones at that. "Ultimate Ninja Storm 3" continues the path of its predecessor in trying to be more of an action/adventure game and in the process dives deeper into exclusivity. Those that aren’t familiar with or event current with their "Naruto" anime may have some trouble figuring out what is going on and choosing a path in the choices presented. "Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s" story mode follows the latest storyline which is just now making its way out of Japan.
The best aspect "Ultimate Ninja Storm 3" has going for it is its faithful representation of the anime series it’s based off. Unfortunately some technical issues and frequent load screens interrupt the experience. The additions in the latest game seem to try to take the focus off of the huge amount of button mashing the fighting is and bring the point back to the popular art and narrative. In that theme, the game starts off with an epic boss battle with Nine-Tails that spans the entire Hidden Leaf village. Reminiscent of a "Metal Gear Rising" sequence, the player must jump from rooftop to rooftop managing the attack and getting swipes in on the bad guy, complete with quick time events.
Besides these boss battles, the latest "Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm" allows some free exploration similar to "Final Fantasy XIII-2’s" hub system. This is a little less dynamic than it could be though, considering where the plot picks up. It is sufficient to add break up the monotony of an otherwise rudimentary fighting game. Some people can be talked to, mini side quests picked up and items can be found and purchased. The gear that you take to battle is one of the few unique aspects of the game.
As for the fighting itself, during the story mode, your character will depend on where you are in the narrative. You can have up to two support characters which can be called into the battle to provide support for a very short period of time by using the bumpers. The d-pad is used to choose an item; either a weapon or some type of replenishment. Other than that, the B button is really the only button used for attacking. A is used for jumping, Y for charging your Chakra, and X is for using whatever projectiles you have equipped. Blocking is executed by using the right trigger.
Of course it wouldn’t be a real fighting game without a multiplayer option and "Ultimate Ninja Storm 3" offers a local and an online option with over 80 playable characters. Online tournaments can also be set up with up to eight players though the mechanics hardly lend themselves toward balanced combat. Most matches end up resembling early "Mortal Kombat" matches filled with frustration for a helpless opponent. Considering that the "Naruto" series isn’t a top flight fighter, the new gameplay additions are a welcome addition but it’s probably still too niche for most gamers.
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