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Review: Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm

Players:1-2 players

Price:$59.99

Platform(s):PS3

Developer:CyberConnect2

Publisher:Namco Bandai

ESRB:Teen

Website:www.ultimateninjastorm.com

Rating:

I'm not entirely sure what type of game this is. I mean, it seems like a fighting game, but then there's an adventure game overworld and then there's hide-and-seek and just... ok, it's time for some deep breaths. The game I'm talking about is none other than Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm, released exclusively for the Playstation 3. It's the first Naruto title for the next-gen console, but it's the 20th game to be released stateside. Whenever you start getting angry at EA for churning out Madden year after year, just realize that there are as many Naruto games as there are Madden games. That's a lotta ninja in a quarter of the time.

Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm retells the story from the manga/anime; it's basically Naruto's journey in becoming a ninja. If you've ever had any contact with the series before, you're not going to be surprised by anything presented to you in this game story-wise. Naruto always sounds like he's yelling, Sasuke broods a lot, and Sakura is your typical girl ninja. Lots of "Believe it!"'s are yelled, and zany humor abounds.

The main adventure mode, called "ULTIMATE MISSION MODE" for extra excitement, is the most disconnected way to play through an adventure/action game ever. At the start of the game, you are thrust into a city after a brief conversation with your ninja trainer. After that, you're told to do nothing in particular. You can go around and talk to people, who ask you to get items for you, and you can throw shurikens around. There are plenty of MacGuffins for you to find which serve no other purposr then to give you something to do. After stumbling around for an hour trying to figure out what you're supposed to do, you'll probably press the start button and notice a "missions" tab. Yes, to actually advance in the game, you have to completely ignore everything you're doing in the adventure and select your mission from the menu.

Main missions can be one of several things. Most common are fights, races, and climbs. Yeah, this is advertised as a fighting game, and there are races in it; ninja-treetop races. Also, I did say the word "climb"; you climb up trees. It's quite a surprise and I feel slightly bad for spoiling it for you loyal readers; the shock on my face when I realized I was running up a damn tree was priceless. I expected Ashton Kutcher to pop out and tell me I was Punk'd. Surely this title couldn't be a fighting game, that would be crazy. There's nobody who would include tree-climbing in a fighting game and actually get that past the focus tests. Sure enough, however, it's in there. You also play hide and seek with a kid, but after running up a tree, nothing phases you.

When you actually do get into a fight, be prepared for disappointment. The makers of Naruto Ultimate Ninja Story decided that they'd rather make everything flashy instead of adding any depth to the combat system. Most of the time, one button press will launch a big attack with multiple strikes, and slamming on more buttons increases your combo. It's quite a step away from something like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, where every move really matters, and button-mashing gets you nowhere. Let me assure you, I literally had no idea what I was doing in combat but I still dominated. Random button presses must have been the secret "instant win" code.

I don't mind when games decide to try and break the mold; there's no way to advance the medium if everybody just plays it safe. What I do mind is when "breaking the mold" means "throwing a bunch of crap together and hoping it sells well." And of course, the Naruto name will cause this title to sell like hotcakes. The combination of an unchallenging combat system, a disjointed adventure mode, and running up trees really makes this game a hodgepodge of disappointment. If the fighting was actually fun and tolerable, then it would be easier to forgive the sloppy adventure mode. As it stands, I'd rather play an actual fighting game.