Publisher: Namco Bandai
# of Players: 1 (Ad-Hoc 1-2)
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Ever-busy developer CyberConnect2 went for a different, but “classic” beat ’em up approach for their latest Naruto Shippuden game and the results are mostly quite fun. Ultimate Ninja Impact takes many of the familiar characters and important parts of the story arc, puts a Dynasty Warriors-like spin to the gameplay, shakes well and despite some AI issues and PlayStation One-era background redraw, there’s a lot of game here that’s easy to pick up and play. A lengthy quest mode, unlockables galore, collectible cards that enhance skills and more are packed onto the UMD, making this an excellent value provided you’re willing to overlook some flaws.
While the game doesn’t have the huge character roster or versus modes found in many other Naruto games, try not to be too disappointed by this for a few reasons. One, it’s NOT a one on one fighter at all and two, the game adds some cool bonus missions to the story that allow you to play from a few different viewpoints. More on that in a bit. As for the main game, initially, you play as Naruto as he returns to Hidden Leaf Village after time away training. If you know that story already (and have played the other Shippuden titles), what’s here is really not too surprising at all. The fun part is playing through each map as the story progresses. New characters become available and need to be played through certain key missions in order to become unlocked for use in the game’s other modes. This breaks up the monotony of busting through the stages as Naruto alone and allows you to find out how effective some of the cooler characters are in battle.
As in any Dynasty Warriors game, you have a basic normal attack, a strong attack and as you string together combos and defeat enemies, a meter builds up that allows you to release a special attack. Here, of course, specials are Chakra-based and can clear out packs of enemies with ease. While the character models look pretty good and animate fluidly, the Chakra attacks are even more impressive in that they’re almost TV quality. Stages are laid out with enemies that appear in certain locations that require clearing out in order to make progress to the inevitable boss battle. Defeat a boss and in some cases, they’re added to your character roster after the fight. In other cases, you unlock them post-mission though a side quest where they become playable. Levels are comprised of chapters broken into short maps, most of which can be beaten in about ten minutes or less. But occasionally, you’ll face a timed mission where you need to accomplish a few goals before the clock ticks down to zero.
All of the characters are fun to use, but I’d have to say a few of the enemy characters (no spoilers here) are the best at wiping out the hordes than some of the Hidden leaf crew. Of those guys and gals, Might Guy and Rock Lee were my personal favorites. The master-student thing they’ve got going is weird enough, but both have some insanely fast attacks and Chakra-based skills that can do major damage (and look incredible in the process). Purists will note that characters are missing some attacks from the manga and anime, but again, this isn’t supposed to be the be-all, end all of Naruto titles at all. Once you’re dialed in, you’ll find that the game works best as a turn your brain off, sit down and kick all sorts of ninja ass experience and it’s here that it shines.
Gold coins are gained through defeating enemies or by smashing objects scattered around the maps. These can be used to purchase upgrade cards and a few other interesting items in the game’s assorted shops. You’ll also acquire many character cards as you play through the different chapters. By slotting up to four cards in your character’s profile, you can boost attack, defense, Chakra, Speed and so forth and so on. While there are cards all the characters can use, some character cards need to level up before they can be used by anyone but the character on that card. If you’re lazy or want to spend some of that easy to get gold, you can pay to fully level up your character cards and beef up your roster quickly. Granted, this makes the game easier for some of the already fast and powerful characters, but the game also gives you cards that let you adjust the difficulty if you’re blowing through things too easily.
Granted, the dopey AI on the fist-fodder henchmen is part of why the game is so easy, even on Normal and Hard difficulties. Many of these goons will stand stock still as you wail away, rush in to bust out a Chakra attack or otherwise put them down. The only real challenge comes from special enemies and bosses. Some mid-level foes throw giant shuriken, shoot arrows or use assorted spells that summon more enemies onto maps. Defeating some of them takes a bit of work, but they more than make up for the near-useless excuses for ninja that populate the levels. Boss battles are generally solid and challenging throughout. While most are straightforward, there area few where a boss’ health needs to be whittled down about halfway before a mini-game begins where you need to quickly tap a few combinations out in order to pull off a massive (and nicely animated) special attack scene.
While the characters all look great and the use of still images over anime scenes is a nice storytelling touch (that makes room on the UMD for those special attack animations), the backgrounds in the game are not so hot to look at. As you rush around the levels, the primarily bland scenery draws itself in constantly and looks straight out of the pre-Naruto PlayStation days. Given CyberConnect 2’s solid work on previous Naruto PSP games, this is a bit of a shock. On the other hand, I’m guessing the game was rushed a little bit. Despite the redraw isues, the game is far from disappointing when it comes to how fast it plays. Sounds, music and voices are from the show and well done overall (you can choose English or Japanese VO). While the game allows you to speed through cut scenes, I’d say skip the skipping if you want to enjoy the story. The 2D maps that expand as the plot thickens look straight out of a board game and you’ll see some light RPG elements as you play that make the game a bit too addictive.
As with other Naruto games, the single player component is quite lengthy as the map and chapters open up. There are areas on early maps that can’t be reached until a certain point where certain characters are unlocked. Additionally, there’s a puzzle mini-game that involves uncovering hidden numbers on each map to unlock a secret area. This game is ridiculously simple to play and really isn’t necessary, but then again, it’s a different way of getting to new areas and you occasionally get a cool card or something else unique for your troubles. The unlockable bonus games are set on maps found in the main game and are variations on beating up as many enemies as possible in a set time, using specific attacks on enemies, defeating a certain amount of bosses and such. The game tracks just about everything you do and you get awards for assorted efforts during the main game.
As I only had one copy of the game, I wasn’t able to try out any of the Ad-Hoc features, so I can’t comment on how well they work. I will note that you’ll definitely want to install the game to your PSP’s Memory Stick to decrease load times (which are pretty slow when playing from the UMD). Overall, there’s nothing really “bad” about the game (other than the backgrounds) and fans who aren’t too picky about absolute perfection in storytelling, can deal with the AI issues and the “only” 20+ character roster should have a blast with this one. As for what’s next for the series on a handheld platform, I’d love to see what CC2 can do on the Vita and with a lot more time to make a game that looks as great as it plays in every aspect.