Keep It Simple Sasuke!

Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations keeps the gameplay simple while taking players on a journey that's anything but.
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: April 3, 2012
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Presentation, for the most part, seems to have become something of a lost art. While the last 15 years have bore witness to tremendous forward leaps in visual fidelity, little things like camera angles, menu transitions and proper use of licensed properties have all remained more or less the same. I'm guessing the reason for this is that most people regard such trifling details as just that: trifles. And perhaps they are. But whether we realize it or not, these bits of minutiae do matter, and in the case of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations they help elevate a fairly ordinary arcade fighting game to a level of respectability it might never have reached. The result is a fun, if simple brawler that successfully engrosses the player in the Naruto universe.

I've played a metric ton of fighting games in my time and none of them make as good a first impression as Ninja Storm Generations does. As you cycle from selection to selection on the main menu, the camera swiftly pans around to different locales within the Hidden Leaf Village while Naruto strikes a variety of action poses. Even in the menus, you are quite literally in the world of Naruto. It's a level of presentation mimicked throughout the game, even using sizable chunks of the actual anime to present its story mode, which itself is probably the most exhaustive narrative ever attempted in a fighting game.

To say that the story follows the life and times of Naruto Uzumaki, would not only be an understatement, it would be a complete misrepresentation. At the start of the game, you have 3 different stories to play through: young Naruto's, older Naruto's and Sasuke Uchiha's. Each is of decent length and features art stills, voice overs and video clips pulled directly from the show to faithfully recreate the story arcs of the wildly popular series. As you complete them, tons more unlock, allowing you to play through the stories of many of the anime's most interesting characters from their own perspectives. While some concessions are made for the sake of brevity, the bulk of the series' most memorable moments are showcased, giving the actual fights far more context than they typically enjoy in other games.

Even during the battles, Generations makes you feel like you are participating in an episode of the show. Sheerly from a technical standpoint, the in-game graphics are impressive. Taking something as chaotic and detailed as a 2D animation about ninjas doing battle with outlandish “jutsu” techniques and translating it into a 3D fighting game is not easy, but the folks at CyberConnect2, as has been their habit, have done so beautifully. Even with clones appearing, assist characters darting in and out, and arena filling ultimate jutsu going off, the game moves like liquid. Clearly, just as much care went into capturing each character's unique fighting styles and techniques as went into making it run smoothly. Special attacks and combinations feature all the same beauty, pizazz and overclocked zaniness the show is known for, and the camera somehow manages to capture all of it in a way that is cinematic while remaining functional and playable. None of the chaos ever detracts from the game's playability.

And it is an imminently playable game. It reminds me most of the old Capcom arena fighter Powerstone on the Dreamcast, in that the controls demand almost no mechanical skill, but the game still requires a certain amount of strategy in order to succeed. Hitting the circle button repeatedly while holding a particular direction on the left analog stick gives you access to the bulk of your moves, the only exceptions being where you press triangle first in order to perform a “chakra load” souping up your next maneuver. It's as simplistic as it sounds and at first glance it might seem as if the game is just a pretty face without any substance beneath the skin. While this ends up being partially true, Generations manages to have just enough to it to keep from being shallow or repetitive.

While the game features a whopping 70 characters to unlock and play as, the real depth comes from resource management. You have two important meters in Generations: the substitution meter and chakra meter. The substitution meter is segmented and each segment represents one usage of substitution jutsu, which allows you to escape a combo you're getting hit by. Using it breaks you from the combo and teleports you behind your opponent, giving you the opportunity to counterattack. Of course, if you do, your opponent can use substitution jutsu to get your back again and resume his offensive, and so on and so forth. This makes engaging your opponent when they have a higher substitution gauge than you a bad idea, since they will eventually get the drop on you one last time and light you up with a big combo.
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