Tuesday, February 15, 2011

REVIEW - Naturo Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.

Nauro Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
(henceforth known as Storm 2) is not a great game, but it is a decent one. It won't challenge you in any way, shape or form. It tries nothing new, but it's... fun. It's a nice, relaxing, bright little game to play when you don't want to stress over the tension of online shooters or experience the doom-and-gloom of the gore-soaked post-apocalyptia we often wander through. It's also phenomenally good-looking.

The story, I was a bit surprised to find, is halfway decent. It does a good job at hooking you on an emotional level, and I was actually a bit involved with Naruto's quest, and affected by the occasional touching scene. It can't be ignored that all of the "good" characters are made-for-kids positive role-model archetypes ("I'll never give up!" "I would never betray my friend!"), and ninety-five percent of the villains are just as two-dimensional - but still, as someone who doesn't know a thing about Naruto, I found myself rather enjoying the tale being told.

The game is half adventure, half fighter. Naruto (and other characters you play as) spend a great deal of time running around a world consisting of rooms, hallways and intersections. In towns you'll find a great deal of people to talk to (they say one line, over and over) which is likely fan-service for folks who treat the anime or manga as religious text, but doesn't really offer much to the rest of us.

Still, its "hallways" are very good-looking.

Occasionally, folks will offer you a job or ask for assistance - little (and I do mean little) side-quests - and everywhere you go, you'll find crap on the ground that can be scooped up and used to open up new items at stores throughout the world.

The in-game hint system loves to tell you that buffing yourself prior to combat by munching on bento and utilizing the right battle items is key to victory, but it's totally unnecessary. Nope, wandering around this (beautiful) world and talking to its (beautiful) denizens, scrounging at the base of (beautiful) flowers and shooing away (beautiful) crows in the search for items is busy work which serves no practical purpose, unless you're completist.

These long action-free sections only really function to break up the pacing, and perhaps too well. The wandering is a service to fans of the property's other media, and while the world you travel through is never less than gorgeous (hand-painted backgrounds! Yummm), I often ended up feeling that too much time was spent between fights.

The fights are pure spectacle.

Thanks entirely to its phenomenal presentation, the fights are why we're here. They're what you wait for, they're why you suffer through the rest of the experience, which would not be worth it if these little gems weren't waiting for you down the road.

Again, this is not due to a wonderfully responsive, complex combat system that is easy to learn but hard to master. It's easy to learn and easy to master - but it's also fun.

Watching two colorful ninja kick and flip away from each other across an arena with this sumptuous, liquid-smooth, masterful animation, chucking shuriken at each other is simply a treat. The "chakra dash", used to close the distance between you and a target, is dessert for the eyes. The almost offensively simple combos may serve to knock away a bit of your enemy's health bar, but to be honest I tended to use them because I just wanted to see them again.

All the simple, standard stuff is just stunningly attractive. When you use the more powerful (and also very simple) moves, the game will knock your socks off.

This is Sakura's throw.
Just her standard throw.

Often, game animation constrains itself due to the static nature of its characters' - for lack of a better word - skeletons. They don't contort, they don't stretch or deform - and this is where Storm 2 breaks from the video game mold, and embraces the roots of its subject.

Just look at the screenshot above. Look at the stretch to Sakura's face - look at the curious, floppy arc of Naruto's body. If you ever pay attention to hand-drawn animation, you'll find these are the tricks artists use to suggest exaggerated speed or force - and the technique is put to masterful use, here.

When it comes to recreating the look of an animated property, no title has ever come close to what's on display in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 - unless, perhaps, you take its predecessor into account. It is, in a word, remarkable. When you're in the middle of a boss battle, dealing with these phenomenal quicktime events (which will simply rewind five seconds, should you fail an input, not punishing failure), you are simply awash with a sumptuous feast of visuals.

...and I haven't even touched on the various glowy-magic effects or world-changing attacks or the excellent lighting. Storm 2 is so damn good at emulating the look and feel of a frantic, flashing anime brawl that, when the chips are down and the throwing stars are flying, it ends up looking infinitely better.

This is a game that only the stalwart Naruto enthusiast will feel a need to fully complete and explore. When it comes to adventure gaming, there are better options. When it comes to fighters, Storm 2 only excels at accessibility.

Still... I recommend checking it out. When and if you happen across it in the wild, pause over Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, and examine its price. It's not really worth buying for its release price, but should you find it for half or less than half of that, I suggest snapping it up.

Perhaps you'll only bring it out when friends are over so you can show them one particularly spectacular boss encounter, but if not, let it rest among your library for the day you want to reach for something beautiful.

Something wholly gorgeous, without the trappings that sky-high production values usually drag along behind them. This isn't a triple-A shooter with a gritty, ultra-serious story. It's not a heavy-handed RPG with an infinite budget, or a blood-soaked sandbox title.

It's an easygoing little game, requiring and offering little - save beauty. It's a simple pleasure.

-incredibly good-looking,
-particularly the spectacular, grand boss battles
-wonderful animation
-Japanese voice track!
-simple, easygoing gameplay
-the story's actually rather involving
-quicktime events that don't punish failure

-what the hell happened with Sasuke? They really left that plot thread dangling
-ankle-deep gameplay
-significant load screens
-traveling across the (gorgeous) world is a hassle
-a lot of meaningless, optional busywork

Not bad, not great - but worth seeing.

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