Right, let’s get the obvious disclaimer out of the way. If you know nothing about Naruto – if you don’t know your Rasengan from your Chidori and your Konohamaru from your Konohagakure, and if you think Akatsuki is something spicy you have with rice – then you will get almost no enjoyment out of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution at all. Not because it’s bad (because as simple fighting games go it’s really rather good) but because it’s all about making fans go “ooh”, and if you’re not a fan, you’re going to get very little out of it.
Second disclaimer: this game contains characters and scenes pretty much right up to the current state of the current arc. As a non-spoilery check, you probably want to at least have seen the face under the Masked Man/Tobi/Madara’s mask (if you care) before playing Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution. Or reading the rest of this review, I suppose, because considering the character list there’ll probably be spoilers in the screenshots alone.
So the only people left are those who know about Naruto and are either relatively up-to-date or actually care about being up-to-date. Sorted. Three paragraphs in, let’s get on with talking about the game.
If you haven’t played any of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games before, here’s a brief overview: you take control of one of the many, many ninjas from Naruto, and use them to kick the living crap out of another ninja from Naruto. Battles take place in a free-roaming 3D environment, but as you’re perpetually locked onto your opponent, there are rarely any issues of targeting or the camera getting in the way.
Battles, too, are very simple. You’ve got a jump button, a melee attack button, a ranged attack button, and a “chakra load” button, which acts as a modifier for your other attacks. Tap that and then hit ranged attack, and your ranged attack will be more powerful. Tap it and then launch a melee attack, and that melee attack will be a special move. Etc. Every character abides by these rules, so you don’t need to learn special input combinations – you can focus on working out how to combo moves together for maximum effect, the optimum attack ranges, etc.
So, now you know how it works! Which you probably knew anyway, but shush; I might not be contractually obligated to describe how a game works, but it feels like it sometimes.
What Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution does not do is re-tell parts of the story. Where Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 was basically a retelling of the Naruto plot from the Kage summit onwards, Revolution is… well, it’s a filler episode before the plot advances far enough for another proper Storm game.
The primary single-player mode is centred around a battle tournament featuring ninjas from across time, in an effort to decide who the greatest ninja ever is. This explains why you’ve got Team 7 rubbing shoulders with Akatsuki rubbing shoulders with long-deceased villains, and why Kakashi wound up asking Itachi (my initial chosen player character) to find Naruto and bring him back for training. For the uninitiated, that’s the rough equivalent of asking Jeffrey Dahmer to babysit for you.
Tournament mode plonks you on Festival Island and lets you wander around completing subquests, recruiting other characters to join your team (because the Greatest Ninja Ever title is apparently split between three people) or entering the tournament proper.
There are two big problems here. First: there’s no plot, no relevance to whatever character you’re playing, and no hook. It’s just wandering around a place populated by Naruto characters and occasionally fighting people. Second: the actual tournament battles are awful.
Rather than go for the standard 1v1 fights, tournament battles are four-way free-for-all affairs. Each character starts with 1000 “battle orbs”, and hitting enemies causes them to drop some of theirs. Whoever has the most battle orbs at the end wins! The problem being that this is not the first iteration of Ultimate Ninja Storm, and so none of the characters – or, indeed, the game itself – are balanced around four-way fighting. Dreadful targeting and repeated stun-locking are just two of the many problems this mode suffers. It might be a vaguely entertaining party mode for a distraction, but as the crux of the game’s main mode it just doesn’t work.
Finishing tournament mode once (because you need to do it multiple times to rise in the ranks and unlock more of the island) nets you access to Mecha-Naruto’s story. This actually has a plot, in which Naruto meets a mechanical doppelganger and starts investigating its origins.
Unfortunately, it’s filler. Rubbish filler. The dreadful filler arcs of the anime compare pretty favourably to this. The plot is catastrophically bad, there’s absolutely no player agency involved (barring one very short set of sidequests – which are an essential part of the plot anyway – you’re completely railroaded into the main quest) and it’s dull, dull, dull.
The remaining single-player mode are a trio of little vignettes, and… actually, these are pretty good. Each is a short, fully animated episode telling a previously unseen part of the story, and you get control whenever a fight kicks off. One is about the founding of Akatsuki and details how the organisation recruited its members; another tells us exactly what happened between Shisui and Itachi all those years ago. The final one doesn’t count because it’s nothing but animation – a very short animation, at that – but oh well.
So if the actual game modes are this bad, why did I say “as simple fighting games go it’s really rather good”? Well, the actual game mechanics are genuinely pretty solid.
A fair few changes have been made. For starters, before each fight, you now choose a style; you can opt for Drive mode in which your support characters will pop in of their own accord to help out, or Ultimate Jutsu mode which gives you access to your character’s ultimate attacks, or Awakening mode, which lets your character periodically get a massive boost to their power and potentially unlock a game-changing transformation. Previous games in the series gave everyone access to all of these abilities at once (if they had them) which led to a few characters being unfeasibly powerful. This limits that, at least slightly.
Another new tweak is the counter-attack system, which lets you temporarily exchange a portion of your maximum chakra in order to switch to a defensive stance. If an enemy hits you while you’re in that stance, they’re immediately stunned and you can go on the offensive. Again, it’s a really nice way of adding a bit more thought to the mash-lots-of-buttons combat that the game does so well, but it has its weaknesses – if an opponent is spamming that, you can watch for the moment it ends and then launch your attack.
There aren’t any huge changes but the fighting engine is the best it’s ever been, really, and the cast of characters – and the way they interact – is the largest yet. Having certain characters in your team together changes up their ultimate attack into something special just between them; Naruto and Sasuke can combine the Chidori and Rasengan into a country-ending explosion, for instance. You can try Shisui for yourself, or take Obito for a spin. You can have a go with all sorts of characters and see all sorts of lovingly animated attacks, and it all looks and feels pretty spectacular.
But this doesn’t change the fact that – battle engine aside – what’s on offer in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution is a hell of a lot less than its predecessor. The giant story mode with its occasional branches has gone. The cinematic battles are gone. The pseudo-RPG sidequests and collect-a-thons are, while present on Festival Island, considerably less lore-happy, to the extent that a lot of them are just called “Team Battle #5” or whatever. Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution has lost a lot of its verve and charm, and that’s a problem, because this is a game that’s pretty much entirely about verve and charm.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a full-blooded PC port. Tearing is rampant, the graphical options are minimal, and a controller is required for play (although that’s hardly a strike against a fighting game). It also appears to be hard-locked at 30FPS, but again, I don’t consider this too much of an issue – it moves incredibly fluidly anyway, and doesn’t suffer from the sluggishness of most other games hard-locked to that framerate.
I can’t easily recommend Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution. The meat of the game is the fighting, and that’s great, but all of the fluff surrounding it has pretty much fallen apart – which is a problem when the main point of the game is to please fans with fluff, rather than to provide a hardcore fighting experience. There are new characters and new mechanics, yes, but for less than half the price you can get your hands on Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, which offers a much more complete experience for fans.
Buy this when it’s on sale if you want to see the new stuff, but considering how much has been carried over from Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, you’re honestly probably better off sticking with that for the time being. If you spend £40 on this, you’re going to be disappointed.