Normally fighting games just aren’t my cup of tea, but UNS 2 grabbed my attention with its mixture of outrageous boss battles and beautiful cel-shaded visuals. The adventure mode is shallow and mostly unimaginative, but it’s saved by an addictively fast and accessible combat system. Filled with flair and respect to the original source material, it’s a perfect choice for quick brawls both online and locally.
UNS 2 has an extensive roster of more than 40 characters to choose from. Players will spend most of their time as Naruto and Saskue in the Adventure Mode though, witnessing a decent chunk of the anime’s Shippuden storyline. Most of the cut scenes use static character models and antique text bubbles, but luckily the Japanese voice acting is stellar and carries most of the emotion effectively.
The plot does little to accommodate outsiders, providing only a short explanation of events and the franchise’s extensive mythology. UNS 2 is clearly a tribute for the fans, presenting a small selection of the show’s best moments with stunning quick time events and multi-tiered boss encounters. The plot is still a minor improvement over the average JRPG, with a memorable cast of characters and some well treated death sequences.
The Adventure Mode suffers badly from a lack of content and exploration. I find it hard not to compare the design choices in this game alongside The Broken Bond, a title developed by Ubisoft in 2008. The Broken Bond had a wealth of enjoyable side missions and collectibles, which utilised a fully realised version of Konoha and its surrounding expanses. A mixture of thoughtful platforming and puzzle solving (which would later influence Assassin’s Creed 2) made the adventure just as satisfying as the one on one brawls.
Conversely, the environments in UNS 2 are lovingly hand drawn – but they’re static, linear and overly simplistic. There’s never an opportunity to explore an alternate path or use any of the skills that you’ve acquired throughout the narrative. The puzzles, which involved finding ninja ‘tags’, are blindingly obvious, monotonous and ultimately a waste of time. Players are encouraged to find items, but foraging for them is an endless chore and a cheap excuse to force players to revisit old areas.
Instead, UNS 2 excels in creating epic battles. Everything else in the adventure mode is arguably just an excuse to pit some of the roster’s craziest characters against one another. Set on a three dimensional stage, players have a huge amount of freedom as they strafe left and right through sand dunes, forests and underground lairs.
With only one button for a close attack, one for a ranged attack and one to block, it’s dead simple to pick up. Players will quickly learn how to modify their moves with chakra, a magic bar that strengthens your attacks and regenerates during combat. These accumulate with jutsu, special moves that are tiered depending on the amount of time and chakra you pour into them. Each character is different, offering a quick wealth of strategy and play styles.
Battle items can be used on the fly to power up your ninja and apply negative status effects to your opponent. Up to two support characters can follow you into combat, allowing players to use their jutsu as defensive blocks or additional special attacks. These add to a further drive gauge that can be used to unleash some devastating team manoeuvres. Many of these additional elements have limited usage, so players will have to carefully judge how to use their rich arsenal.
As previously mentioned, the boss battles are extravagant and seamlessly blend arena combat with extravagant, multi phase stages. They’re very reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, forcing players to memorise attack patterns and take advantage of an enemy’s small openings. Quick time events are a universally hated part of game design, but here they’re used with a surprising degree of purpose and finesse. It all adds up to some tense conflicts which players will want to experience time and time again.
The soundtrack is a healthy mix of saddened strings and dramatic tribal drums, never straying too far from the vibe firmly established in the show. Adequate, but not exceptional.
Naruto Shippuuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 captures the look and essence of the anime perfectly. The Adventure Mode is light and frequently tedious, but it’s made up for by an addictive combat engine that works both offline and online. If you’re desperate for a new fighter to sink your thumbs into, this might be worth a look.