Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. A tongue-twister of a video game. First I must confess I have virtually no experience with the series prior to having a go with this version. But I have been told that one should leave one's comfort zone. For me, Naruto is as far away from the comfort zone as it goes. Imagine a penguin in the Sahara. On the hottest day of the year.
If you are unfamiliar with the manga and anime, it's worth spending a semester at Internet University. The Naruto series is complex and complicated. Not surprising given there's 15 years of manga behind it.
In short, it's about Naruto Uzumaki growing up and his journey to become the top ninja in his village. In the game, I learn that Team 7 has risen from the dead. No idea what that means, but it's the little nugget of information we get before the PS4 demo begins.
The demo begins with Naruto and his two friends summoning titanic demons, on the heads of which they ride into battle to fight against a huge ten-tailed monster.
Naruto sits firmly atop of Gamakichi, a giant frog, a building-sized amphibian which can leap cliffs in one bound and has an arsenal of attacks to combat foes, which includes the ability to summon a gigantic snake and huge slug (Naruto's friends may turn into them. It's unclear) for support attacks with a tap of L1 or R1, with a brief cool-down period before they can be deployed again.
Also, Gamakichi carries an egg-shaped amulet around his neck that looks - from behind - like a giant frogs scrotum (when he jumps). Why would I think that? Because the game makes me.
I have no idea about the finer or deeper points of the story. But I am pulled into events thanks to the cel-shaded visuals, which looks amazing on PS4. Extremely colourful, the cartoon style is paired with a fairly simple fighting system and hordes of opponents to fight.
Before I reach the ten-tailed monster, I have to slash a dozen clones in half, bursting as a result of my most powerful attacks, then melting away into neon-green slime puddles. At our frog god's feet, numerous other smaller clones are trampled as I leap and clash with their bigger brothers. Halfway through the stretch to the valley's end, and I've notched up 4334 kills. That's no exaggeration; there's an on-screen counter.
Much of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 reminds me of Capcom's Asura's Wrath, the last game I played by Storm 4's developer CyberConnect2. Opponents are big as towers, houses, mountains... after I disassembled the first form of the final boss in a conventional hack'n'slay match, Naruto slips into a seemingly endless quicktime event, grinding along the winding arms of the monster trying to reach its head. Presumably. Everything's a little chaotic.
It's best not to overthink it. You'll cook your brain trying to explain. It's all about the flow of dodging, sliding, tapping buttons. There's always a new wonder to try and process. The colourful explosions, the effects, all just help Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 to feel like a montage of Photoshop filters camouflaged as a video game. Colourful, contrast, channel separation, black and white and grit - eventually your eyes give up trying to understand what and why the final boss transforms. It's a fireworks display of particle effects. Cotton candy for the eye.
Yet event with basic understanding of the series, the game deliver a surprisingly good experience. So good that I actually play the short demo again. Just in order to try and make sense of what I saw second time round. Things still eluded me. But my interest's piqued. The fact that there's to be offline and online multiplayer has me intrigued.