Yesterday I sat in a Namco Funscape arcade, deep in the heart of Westminster in London town. As I sipped my way through a whisky coke and sucked on a Chupa Chup I’d earned from a generous claw-machine, I stopped and admired the waves of people who flooded in all evening long to support the Namco cause. It was at this point I considered the Namco Bandai back-catalogue of recent videogames: Ni No Kuni, Tekken Tag Tournament, The Witcher 2 & Soul Calibur V – to me, these are all games that have a severely limited appeal and yet are adored globally by a vast and dedicated fan base. These are games that are made by the fans for the fans. It was this trail of thought which subsequently excited me as I knew I soon had to return home to tackle the latest addition to Namco’s lineage, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3.
As both a reviewer and a gamer, this was genuinely my first foray into the realms of manga-inspired fighting games (I know, I know – shameful!) Without knowing much of the Naruto franchise, I was instantly struck by two overwhelming actualities. Firstly, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 demonstrated to me just how eclectic the range of available video game genres has become in recent years – we’re not as pigeon-holed with first-person shooters as we think. Secondly, the whole game just oozes that iconic, retro vibe that Namco are so capable of nailing; it’s abundently Japanese from the faithful anime style of the animation right down to the announcing “hype-man”-esque voice-over on the main menu screen. The whole atmosphere of the game has a charming celebratory feel to it – celebrating the characters from Naruto manga, Japenese culture and the subsequent popularity of it all in western culture – and that’s really a fantastic achievement.
I must admit the narrative is fairly nonsensical to a Naruto newcomer such as myself, however the binary oppositions of Good vs. Evil come into play in their most relatable form as gamers are treated to a well-paced story that faithfully charts the battles previously seen on TV as of Naruto and dastardly enemies go toe-to-toe in a spectacle of the highest calibre. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 takes fighting games in an interesting direction I’ve never seen before, whereby a traditional static environment is dropped in favour of a multi-layered “arena” that players can traverse in order to find perfect vantage points to attack their designated enemy. The game kicks off in the Hidden Leaf Forest, as the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox is spotted terrorising its peaceful villagers. You are instantly given an option in a new mode titled “Ultimate Decision Mode” to decide how you want to approach the situation – a game mechanic that is tried and true in contemporary gaming, whereby you can select to take one route which is slightly more difficult or another which is somewhat easier, each earning you a certain amount of “Legend” or “Hero” points based on your choice. This has subsequent long-term effects by offering players alternate story lines and endings during their time with the game, also encouraging replayability which (as we all know) is a great way of increasing longevity! Ker-ching!
The game handles rather well and due to the fact you can opt to select two characters to assist you during battle you’re usually micro-managing and strategically defending/attacking rather than wildly button bashing which I anticipated the game would end up boiling down to. There are roughly 13 types of combos available so the completist and veterans amongst you will have fun exploring and executing these, however for me I always found I developed a trend in my play style whereby I’d attack as strongly as possible within the confines of my surroundings and once I stumbled upon support or a great vantage point I’d press the relevant command and unleash utter hell on my enemy. To deliver maximum damage during boss battles, quick-time events are also prevalent in UNS3 – and whilst generally I’m never a fan of such a mechanic it works well here as it allows you to appreciate the spectacle onscreen without the stress of focusing too hard on executing crazy combos.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a game packed to the rafters with gorgeous stylized visuals, dedicated manga battles featuring the largest cast ever assembled in the Ultimate Ninja series and additional modes (such as the coveted Beat Em Up mode) which successfully increase the longevity of the title. Despite all these positives, the game is undoubtedly tailored to suit fans of the Naruto series – which obviously makes sense but subsequently makes it relatively impenetrable to fully appreciate if you’re a casual gamer. For all its strengths as a game that services its fans it easily neglects a large portion of the gaming audience – which is fine really as the only person who suffers is the Namco accountant. In many ways I respect the dedication and bravery of Namco Bandai to their original source material; they do not dumb down their content in order to rake in larger figures. As I said in my introduction, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is another impressive addition to the legacy of Namco Bandai games – a game created for fans by fans. Now learn that Jutsu and go hit the world with your Kekkei Genkai! Yeah I know what I’m talking about…