Naruto fighting games are a dime a dozen, each new title pummeling store shelves with quiet changes. It's difficult to get amped up about a new Naruto game when they come out every few months, yet you'd be hard-pressed to find a game as highly anticipated in the franchise as Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm. Beyond its status as a PlayStation 3-exclusive, Namco-Bandai has drummed up intrigue with a furiously fast breed of fighting game that has caught eyes well outside the bounds of Naruto fandom. Simply put, we're pleasantly surprised by this colorful brawler.
More than two dozen characters pulled from the series duke it out in Ultimate Ninja Storm, although we only had access to a pair. Title hero Naruto and ally Kakashi battled against each other utilizing a range of basic attacks and items combined with powerful jutsu. Hitting the circle button initiates a basic attack, which is naturally effective when face-to-face with your foe. At range, you can lob shuriken with a press of the square button. Special items, such as ramen for restoring lost health, are mapped to the directional pad.
If you're aiming for victory in battle, however, throwing random punches and chucking shuriken isn't enough — you'll need to pull off jutsu. Basic attacks can be powered up using chakra, which requires holding down the triangle button for an energy charge. This puts a bit more bite behind your blows, but it's nothing compared to the devastation unleashed by ultimate jutsu.
Situated to the side of each fighter's health and chakra meters is a three-drop storm gauge. Filling these drops up with skillful fighting allows you to execute character-specific ultimate jutsu. A quick simultaneous tap of the triangle and circle buttons and you're off. Naruto naturally performed his famous shadow clone jutsu that summoned dozens of replicas that proceeded to dog pile Kakashi. Should both characters attempt to use ultimate jutsu at the same time, the battle moves into mash mode. As button icons stream along both sides of the screen, the first to zip through them correctly gets to unleash their attack.
Along with individual abilities, Ultimate Ninja Storm introduces tag team attacks. Tapping either L1 or R1 calls in a support character for a special attack. A quick press of L1 brought Sasuke onto the battlefield on our behalf, for example. The wide-open stages encourage use of support allies since it often can be challenging to hone in on your opponent. Battles play out in beautiful 3D levels that appear to be pulled right from the animated series. They're incredibly detailed and colorful, but also a bit trickier to play in when compared to the 2D fighting of past titles.
While the fighting mechanics are pretty basic, the move to 3D ramps up the difficult. Even so, Ultimate Ninja Storm is surprisingly accessible. You won't need to be intimately familiar with the franchise or even well-versed in fighting games--this is definitely a game that promises to deliver on fast action without much fumbling over the controller.