Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact

Narutimately Bland

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact is less impact than it is a light slap.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 27, 2011
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Good, dear, sweet baby Jeebus there have been a lot of Naruto games, and I've had to review most of them. As someone who was never terribly interested in the anime or manga (which I think is still somehow going), I was always amazed that the various PS2, PS3 and PSP games were able to get me hooked -- albeit for varying lengths of time. Developer CyberConnect2 is usually adept at imbuing their games with simple, accessible gameplay that makes exploring (and re-exploring, and re-re-exploring) the Hidden Leaf Village and beyond surprisingly interesting.

The PSP games, though, have been primarily combat-heavy affairs rather than something that was deeply adventurous. It's worked, for the most part, but you can only make so many 2D fighters before the whole formula starts to break down, which is probably why the approach was shifted a bit toward giving the series a heavier story bent. Enter Ultimate Ninja Impact, which spans the Kazekage Rescue to Five Kage Summit storyline arcs.

As I understand it, that's a fairly meaty amount of story to cover, and indeed this is a lengthy game to say the least. Unfortunately, nearly all of it is told with ponderously slow talking head segments using the barest minimum animation and flair, so the ratio of down time to actual combat is frighteningly close to a 50/50 split. If you know and/or care about the characters, I've little doubt that it's great to hear all the voice actors do their thing, but for folks like me that would rather see things play out a little more dynamically, it's more than a little boring.

When it comes time to actually throw blows, though, things start out rather interesting. As I mentioned before, this is a series that has evolved over a staggering number of games, so it's always nice to see devs making an effort to mix things up. Rather than a simple stage-based fighter, Ultimate Ninja Impact moves things out into a more open beat-em-up style akin to something like Dynasty Warriors. In fact, UNI seems like a wholesale rip-off of the DW basics, right down to forked combo trees using a single attack button and a more powerful "finisher" that can be dropped in at any point during the combo process.

Longer strings with a finisher offer a bigger area of effect, but there are multiple opportunities to cut a combo short and just unleash an attack, and each of the dozens of playable characters has their own moveset with varying attack strengths, ranges and effects, so there's plenty here to mix things up -- at least in theory. In actual practice, there's a ton of mindless button mashing against hundreds of generic targets that mostly just sit there and let you beat on them. Actual named group leaders or mini-bosses appear from time to time, and bigger main foes can pop in and retreat when defeated just like KOEI's button mashers, so there's an immediate feeling of déjà vu despite the Naruto-themed trappings.

There have been scores more Dynasty Warriors games than Naruto ones -- which is saying something -- but it also means KOEI's Omega Force development studio has had plenty of time to really hone the formula into something addictive. With Ultimate Ninja Impact, there's simply no comparing the scale or complexity (to say nothing of the absent RPG-style progression), and the result is that things feel almost immediately stale. CyberConnect2 has attempted to augment the repetitive gameplay by introducing cards that can be attached to characters that imbue them with stat boosts or new attacks -- some of which can be leveled up by keeping them equipped -- but by and large these are splints for an already broken experience. Add in the fact that new cards have to be unlocked by collecting random pieces doled out at the end of missions based on performance (the better your speed through a level, damage taken, enemies defeated and so on, the better your end-mission grade and thus number of pieces), and the fact that some pieces are duplicated, and you have something that feels unnecessarily grindy even from the outset.
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