Naruto video games have achieved a rhythm that should by now be familiar to FIFA players. Developer CyberConnect2 and publisher Bandai Namco released Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm on PS3 back in 2008, the first instalment in a series of games that would culminate a generation later where we learn the whole story of this troublemaking ninja with aspirations to become the great leader (Hokage) of his village.
After having gotten all of the different entries in the series, and even compilations and remasters, it's now the Nintendo Switch's turn to receive a game in the form of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy. Here we have a reunion of the first three main games of the saga, showing the events of Masashi Kishimoto's manga, leaving the door open to the grand finale that readers saw in November 2014, after 15 years of the journey.
It's surprising to see that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is left out, the first title in this console generation (as well as seeing release on PC), which is one of the main negative points about the package. Whether you're an unconditional fan of the young ninja or even if you just like what you've seen and want more, you should know that the story is left unfinished, since the three games only show the events starting with he first chapter of the anime, running through until one of the key moments in the Great Ninja War, but without showing the resolution of both the war or the eternal conflict between Naruto and Sasuke.
As for the rest, this collection is a good starting point for those who haven't played any of these games before now. We reckon that the Ultimate Ninja Storm saga is one of the most faithful adaptations of the animated series and reaches almost overwhelmingly spectacular levels of action, especially during the boss fights and in the several QTEs that reinforce the impact of the scenes that play around them (that may be the reason why Masashi Kishimoto, author of the manga, even said that he preferred these sections over the anime scenes).
However, there are also certain weaknesses, one of them being the well-documented fact that the games took a step back during the trilogy. While the first Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm embraced the idea of large, open maps where you could tackle different missions, the following instalments reduced the sense of freedom, making it more of a linear game. They decided to instead focus on reinforcing the great moments of the story, making slight changes to the mechanics and then polishing them, experimenting with style (like the beat 'em up sections that we experienced occasionally in the third game), and expanding the roster.
With regards to the point about expanding the roster, the collection is heavy on recycling in the second and third games, aside from a few interesting additions. These kinds of games need a broad and varied roster, but not all fans will find recycling that big of an issue, as there are enough faces to choose from to keep most happy, and it's also easy to find a game mode that suits the way you want to play.
In fact, it seems that CyberConnect2 has focused on a game system designed for you to experiment with until you find the best combinations. The combat mechanics are simple - maybe even too simple if you're an experienced fighting fan - and the battles are the core of the gameplay, taking place in closed settings (three-dimensional in the first game, where you could even run along the walls). Here you have total mobility, yet the action is streamlined to fit a combination of just three buttons; press A to hit, X to charge your chakra or your active special, and B to jump or to move faster. The combos are easy too, so there's no challenge at all in terms of execution, and the same applies to special attacks and the most powerful moves.
This doesn't mean there's no depth in it, even if it looks and sounds relatively simplistic. Those who have been playing this franchise for some time know the importance of choosing their characters carefully, and paying attention to your chakra levels when it comes to managing special attacks and instant dodges (something that changes in the third game), as well as how influential it can be having a good object combination or even how important something as simple as the grip can be. If we combine these factors with all of the differences and particularities of each character, we get a more complex experience than is obvious at first glance. A newcomer will likely only notice how mashing two or three buttons can earn victory, but with some experience they'll discover that there's quite an interesting metagame.
The essence of this trilogy of games has been maintained. In fact, almost every single pixel has been kept true to the originals. The game modes are still there, with a story that becomes the cornerstone of the experience, and there are both typical and atypical multiplayer modes (which we've not been able to test fully due to the lack of players ahead of release - if there are any issues on that front we'll let you know), although an effort has been made to include a selection of DLC. Unfortunately, these are merely alternative skins for fighters though.
The best part of this version, as you can imagine, is the portability that the Switch provides. Perhaps this isn't really that new since the console has already seen similar games, but then again it's always a nice surprise when you get to enjoy a game like this in handheld mode, playing it wherever you want and, best of all, without negatively affecting its performance. Indeed, it even improves the resolution slightly with respect to the originals.
It's a pity that one of the key features of the hybrid console wasn't used, however, as we're talking about the local multiplayer offered by the Joy-Cons, or the lack thereof. The games require either the use of both or the use of a Pro Controller, so these ninjas won't be able to enjoy the "make it two and make it fun" experience implemented by Switch local multiplayer.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy tells a section of Naruto's story in a most spectacular and enjoyable way, and that's to be commended. These instalments come with a lot of depth and many hours of entertaining gameplay, especially when playing with a friend at home or online. If you're a Naruto fan and you haven't played it before, don't even think twice.
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