This latest entry into the series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 (hereafter referred to as NS:UNH3) is brought to us by Japanese developer CyberConnect 2 who are responsible for several other Naruto games. At its core, NS:UNH3 is a side-scrolling brawler mixed with a fighter. Or maybe it is a fighter mixed with a side-scrolling brawler. I was never quite sure which the focus was on... while the game does feature co-op and four player fights, my lack of friends who embrace the Naruto world meant that I was spending most of my time in the single-player story mode, or as the game refers to it, the Master Road mode.
In this mode, players alternate between some really traditional side-scrolling platform levels that feature basic brawling along the lines of pretty much every side-scrolling brawler ever (all the way back to Kung Fu on the NES) with the addition of a wide variety of special moves and some pretty strict time limits. These side scrolling levels also contain a wide range of collectibles hidden up high or inside environmental objects. Other levels are more like a traditional fighting game with combatants locked into an arena. The simplicity of the game is apparent here, as there are no lengthy combos, and a few simple button presses let you unleash a wide range of powerful attacks. All of this is wrapped around a story mode that I gather is ripped straight from the pages and screens of existing Naruto lore. Occasional cut-scenes highlight ninja action that is far more thrilling than anything that takes place in the game itself, despite usually consisting of mostly static images with voiceover.
One would imagine that true Naruto fans, while probably in agreement that the gameplay here is a little stale and simplistic, would be thrilled with the amount of content in this game. The Master Road is a long road indeed, and is broken up into Chapters and Acts that will eat away at a lot of the time you could be using to watch and/or read Naruto in a less interactive form. There is a bit of variety as the brawling can be replaced by objective mission where you need to collect a certain amount of X in Y time, smash X things in Y time, or race X before Y get there first. That does get old quick however, and levels have a very same-y feel to them. Fear not though, as when that gets old, the collect-a-thon can start. In NS:UNH3, you can unlock tactics (which you select before a battle to aid you), scrolls, wallpapers, collectable thingies and finally CHARACTERS.
NS:UNH3 features over 45 playable characters for your battles, and while I was hard pressed to find much difference to the way they all played, I would be a real Naruto fan would be pretty pleased to be able to take their favorite protagonist/antagonist into the arena. Unfortunately, the game became way too repetitive for me long before I had unlocked everything, and by the time most of it was available I just didn't have the desire or patience to play around with all the unlocks. NS:UNH3 doesn't really do anything wrong, but it fails to do anything new or interesting, and fails to engage on most every level. Obviously this game was made for fans of the series, but my research tells me that this latest game doesn't add a whole lot to the pre-existing entries into the franchise, so I suspect it might get a little tiresome for all but the biggest fanboys.