I both love and hate Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. As a fan of the anime and manga, I expected lots of intense action from what’s been presented as the final game of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, and to its credit, Storm 4 delivers. The characters and over-the-top battles look and feel great, and the story pays off in a satisfying way. On the other hand, even the best combat system in the world would be wasted if there are no worthy opponents to be found.
Watch the first 16 minutes of gameplay above.
What I like most is the ability to switch between your active fighter and two support characters on the fly.
That’s not to say that this combat is the best, but it is pretty strong. Fights are fast and fierce, and are treated like major events by way of plenty of cinematic camera angles and powerful jutsu moves at your disposal. The controls are simple and the most responsive of the Storm games to date. What I liked most, however, was the ability to switch between your active fighter and two support characters on the fly by moving the right analog stick. This let me use my characters for both active and support roles, and didn’t limit them to one task in a fight. In one battle, I was able launch a series of punches with Hinata before calling for an assist from Naruto to deal more damage, and then switching to Hashirama Senju to recharge my energy fast for a follow-up jutsu attack.
That strategy isn’t always needed, though, because the AI opponents have a bad habit of falling into a repetitive cycle of constantly evading and spamming ranged attacks. This happened to me many times and became incredibly annoying, especially when I couldn’t get an attack off without taking a kunai to the face. That’s made even worse by the way some areas of the Story Mode give the computer a huge edge in battle by increasing their damage, which can make things feel very cheap and unfair.
See the Official Secret Techniques trailer above.
The level of polish in the storytelling is disappointing.
I was also let down by the presentation of the brief, five to six-hour story mode, which at the beginning promises epic battles and interactive scenes that the Storm series is known for. But just 15 minutes into it, I was shown long montage cutscenes with motion-comic style effects instead of anime clips. It wasn’t until later in the story that Storm 4 switches to in-game cutscenes, which look much better than the static images. Even then, however, the lip syncing to the audio is off on both the Japanese and English audio tracks, which create some awkward moments. It’s disappointing that the level of storytelling polish isn’t up to the standard I’d expected. At least the end of Story Mode hints at what may come next for Naruto and his friends in an exciting way.
After that comes the follow-up Adventure Mode, an epilogue that takes place immediately after the events of Story Mode. However, it acts more like an obligatory excuse to reminisce about key events from the early parts of the series, such as Naruto’s first battles with Sasuke and the Chunin Exams. With more of the same AI troubles and nothing new to see by way of the story, it feels like it can be skipped entirely without missing anything.
Watch Gaara vs Rock Lee above.
Multiplayer in Storm 4 is both a hit and a miss. Local matches are great and have a bunch of different competitive modes to explore, along with 61 playable characters with varying attacks, jutsu moves, and alternate costumes. Online multiplayer, however, can be frustrating with its connection issues, where I found it nearly impossible to find a game, much less a stable matchup. Almost every match suffered from massive input lag or stuttering that rendered them pretty much unplayable.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 refines the gameplay to the absolute best of the series and offers a large roster of playable characters. Unfortunately, it squanders all of that potential with a short and poorly presented campaign fought against buggy AI, a forgettable Adventure Mode and online matches that are plagued with connectivity problems. The Ultimate Ninja Storm series sadly does not end on a high note.