We all have our guilty pleasures; one of mine is Shonen Jump. I remember buying the weekly manga back in 2003 hoping nobody saw a grown man pick up thick book with what only could be described as a lolli on the cover. That was my introduction to this annoying little ragamuffin orphan named Naruto: the prankster of Konohagakure. Localization had not begun on the series yet and I was forced wait till region 1 DVD's made their appearance and even had TV Tokyo for a while. Now with Hulu and Crunchyroll, we can watch what our friends across the Pacific are watching usually in less than a week.
When the first Ninja Storm hit, I was firmly in Shonen Jumps embrace. The disc didn't often leave the PS3 which I bought just to play it. Bandai Namco was responsible for many a late night gaming battles on my couch with co-workers trying to best me (damn you EJ and your nimble fingers). Even when the anime went off the rails and gave us 5 filler episodes for every one meaningful story ark, I kept coming back to the Ultimate Ninja series.
If you are familiar with the last two entries in the series (Generations and 3), than you know the fighting mechanics of the series and little has changed other than being able to switch at will to you support characters leading the battle. The biggest difference is that the story and the adventure are separated now. The story covers the culmination of the Forth Great Ninja War leading up to the culmination of the series and manga. It took about 8 hours for me to finish. The adventure mode takes place after the story mode is more of the free roam. In previous games the story was hid inside of this feature. I am supremely happy they separated the two, so you can skip some of the unnecessary fluff and all the McGuffin type quests.
Graphically this game, like its predecessors, showcase the best animation of all anime fighting games. Set piece battles are gripping, colorful, and tense. It is so stunning that I'm aghast as to why during half of the story mode, there are slide shows instead of animation. Why? We know you can do better. We know you have access to all the animation of the show. Let us relive it.
The soundtrack, like those before, are top notch musical scores that blend traditional Japanese instrumentals with Western melodies. Plus a J-Pop song for good measure.
The gameplay is just as tight technically as all the other games. The controls are simple, but there are a host of combinations moves for the 100+ characters (yes there are that many). Sense the game is so linked to the manga, the players all bear their familiar attacks. These are of course unbalanced. You will have a harder time winning a match as Rin than you will as Minato... that just makes sense.
The multiplayer is where this game shines. If your opponent is on the couch next to you or half way around the world, the battles are almost as gratifying. Nothing beats getting that ultimate ninjutsu off after your buddy ran out of substitutions. I have yet to have a problem connecting to matches online and the tournament structure is sublime.
This is the last entry in the series and it ends on the emotional high notes that the series ended on while bridging the gap till the movie feature "The Last." The game, like the anime, may have grown a bit stale over the past few years and I can understand why some would be hesitant to add this game to their fighting game collection if they are not a fan of the series. But the character selection, the story, and the artistry of this game far surpass many of the more dearly held fighters. It's worth experiencing even if your not a fan of the series.
Plus it will hold me over till the new Guilty Gear this summer.