Naruto has long had an interesting licensing situation, with three different companies owning the rights to the series on different consoles. The results have usually been fighting games, as befitting a shonen anime series. Ubisoft seems to have surrendered the Xbox 360 license to Namco for the latest of the Ultimate Ninja series of fighters, now in its second high-definition, 3-D release in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.
As usual, the game follows the anime's plot, this time from the start of Shippuden series to the end of the Payne arc. This is represented as a series of one-on-one battles, with reasonably simple mechanics that favor a massive cast. A few surprises and twists have been thrown in to keep things more interesting, particularly in the Story mode.
The Story mode is presented in three parts, allowing the arcs to be played from the point of view of Naruto, Sakura or Sasuke. In addition, several of the characters that you face are switched out for special boss variants whose supers involve careful evasion rather than the older-format button-panic microgames. Further mixing things up, the player can have helpers, à la the first Marvel vs. Capcom, who jump in every so often for team-up specials or to influence the fight. Levels are now decently destructible.
The example casts Naruto, with Sakura in the wings to help out every so often, in a training match against Kakashi, who's now armed with a special variant of his lightning storm-inducing Thousand Birds technique. The attack requires a precisely timed double jump to completely evade, sending rocks flying on the stage floor and periphery to expand the stage a little. As the fight hits certain points, the game takes control to offer scenes that mirror the anime and shift the situation. When Kakashi is nearly downed, this results in a special scene where Naruto knocks two bells off his teacher's belt to win the training match.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is only the second Naruto game to offer online multiplayer, though the details of how it works weren't explained on the E3 show floor. Graphics have been tweaked but are generally consistent with the Naruto style, right down to the sense of humor. Rarely will screenshots be mistaken for things from the actual anime, but the appearance is closer than ever, and the differences are only obvious in motion and relatively tiny details.
The first Ninja Storm was a significant fan favorite on the PlayStation 3, preferred to Ubisoft's Xbox 360 entries. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 will be multiplatform (a Naruto first!) and looks to be a reasonably worthy follow-up for fans.
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