Naruto has always been good at taking the previous game in the franchise, slapping a new coat of paint on it, and pretending it is totally a new game because, hey, we’re going to buy it anyway. Thus, it is somewhat refreshing that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution actually makes some fairly significant changes to the standard formula. No need for long time fans to worry, however, as this is still largely the same experience you have come to know over the past decade now. Some much needed tweaks and all the fan-service you can possibly cram into one game, however, make this the Naruto title to own and the most enjoyable title in the Storm series to date.
The combat has undergone some fairly important changes, and for the first time the semblance of an actual competitive fighting game and not just a fan-service button masher can be seen. The new focus on guard breaks and counters put some actual strategy into the combat, and the tried and true strategy of mindlessly dashing and attacking is almost certainly going to get you killed. Perhaps the focus is a bit too heavily on these new elements, however, as they can be absolutely devastating at times and one slip up can result in losing half a health bar. Even with these additions, combat can still get a bit button mashy as the combo system still isn’t as clever or sophisticated as in the best fighters.
Four players battles are introduced for the first time in the series, although the 1-on-1 combat the series is known for is still a major component. These four person fights are a major focus of the World Tournament mode, which is sort of the main attraction for single player. Almost every character that even coughed one time in the background of a Naruto episode makes an appearance, and all of them have entered a fighting tournament to see who is the best in the world. Instead of how the fights in these games traditionally play out, you and three other fighters start each fight with a set number of orbs which can be knocked away from the other fighters by striking them repeatedly. The one with the most orbs when time expires wins, and players can be knocked out of the fight if they take damage after they run out of orbs. While the first fight of the game is just a four person free for all, you are eventually allowed to recruit other characters in free roaming segments between the fights who can join you in combat. Multi-person teams can be formed, with the orbs earned in the first round carrying over to the next where a different character is controlled.
Alternating between fights and exploration is nice, but things end up dragging after a while as the whole thing isn’t as well constructed as it could be. Perhaps most annoying is the fact that you are unable to use your ultimate jutsus, team attacks, or other special maneuvers that always defined the single player combat, and it really sucks away some of the fun and spectacle of the fights. The enemy AI is not particularly strong in these modes either, and there were multiple times where one of the fighters would be standing off by themselves, watching us fight like they never got the memo they were supposed to participate. Multiple fighters also creates the necessity of giving you some way to target who you want to direct your fists at, and unfortunately not all of the kinks were ironed out of the targeting system. Being surprised attacked from behind was commonplace, and when I tried to switch to fight, I was instead forced to target the guy in the corner halfway across the screen looking at the butterflies. Trying to rapidly switch targets in the midst of a heated battle is kind of a mess waiting to happen.
It is a shame that the four player fights are isolated to the games story mode, or should I say “story” mode as this is the first Naruto game that really seems to almost ignore to story in the game to focus on the combat. There are bits of story here and there, including some excellent animated segments in the Ninja Escapades mode that are broken up by some sporadic fighting, but really this game has almost no real story to it in comparison to the previous titles. This might be a controversial decision to some longtime Naruto fans and those that were hoping to see things push forward after the last game, but it was a change I really preferred. The story mode in the past games could get too intrusive at times, taking the controller out of your hands for long chunks of time to rehash story you are most likely already familiar with if you’re a fan of the manga or anime. Revolution, however, goes from fight to exploration to fight almost constantly, pushing you forward with gameplay and never breaking the pacing. The best part is that what story there is here is entirely new, so while there is much less of it than in past games I actually found myself more interested in it as it was brand new content.
While the complete absence of a story might be disappointing to some fans, in some way its makes this the most accessible Naruto game. If you ever wanted to try one of these games out but didn’t want to read the necessary six tomes of background information to try and figure out who was who and what was going on in the story, this is absolutely the game to check out as essentially the entire story is “go punch that guy in the face.” The combat has always sort of lent itself to a more casual, mash buttons and hope for the best kind of gameplay, and while there are some higher strategies involved (especially if you want to go online), the combat was always too basic and unbalanced to be anything more than a casual fighter. By ignoring the story and focusing on the gameplay, the game will be more accessible to the less hardcore of Naruto fans, albeit at the risk of alienating long time fans of the series that were hoping for a bit more in terms of the story.
Even the standard basic one-on-one fighting system has been modified slightly, although it is essentially a slightly improved version of what was found in Ultimate Nina Storm 3 with the big change being giving each character three different styles to choose from. Ultimate Jutsu allows you to perform devastating Ultimate Combo Jutsu attacks, Awakening allows you to boost yourself into an enhanced state and also eventually use True Awakening that further buffs you up, and Drive allows your supports characters to act as an extra line of defense against attackers. All three styles play out differently and it gives the player a bit of freedom to select their exact playing style. This is the style you will use in free play or in online fights, and while there are certainly still plenty of balance issues in terms of character selection and certain moves, it quickly becomes apparent that this is the most competitive Naruto fighter yet. Unfortunately, lag gets in a way of the online fun a bit, and the weird ranking system almost seems to encourage quitters so while this is the best Naruto fighter yet it will probably remain only a temporary distraction for all but the most hardcore of Naruto enthusiasts.
An exceptionally poor job is also done explaining exactly how to play, as you’re simply thrown into battles to figure out the rest from there. It seems to be operating under the immediate assumption that players have experienced all the other games and know what to expect, but there are some minor differences in the system and some sort of actual tutorial would’ve been nice. I’ve played several of the past games in the series, but it had been a little while, so when first dropped into battle, I was forced to flail around a bit until things started coming back to me. Newbies are going to be completely lost and even veterans might be slightly annoyed that the new features aren’t explained as well as they could be.
There will be complaints that Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution is a cash grab, and the removal of any real story segment might irk those hoping for a more traditional entry in the series. With refined combat and a renewed emphasis on actual gameplay, however, it’s still one of the more enjoyable Naruto titles. The World Tournament mode drags on longer than it should and combat still isn’t clever enough to qualify this as a top tier competitive game, but it’s clear Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution was never aspiring to be one. While the presentation could have been more robust and gameplay mechanics more refined, it remains a concentrated and entertaining dose of Naruto fanservice, like the developers dropped a hundred different Naruto action figures into your lap and told you to go nuts.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3