Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 - Road to Boruto Review
Man, what a mouthful of a title, right? Fortunately, the length of the title here is a good representation of what you are getting with the game; Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is one of the biggest, most comprehensive fighting games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. Before we dive in, a little background info: I've loved a LOT of Naruto games over the years, going back to the 2D side-scrollers on Game Boy Advance. That said, I've never been much of a fan of the source material. I love the artwork, but I just couldn't get into the series, despite loving the games, characters, etc. So you can read this review through the lens of someone who is familiar with Naruto, but by no means a scholar. Either way, if you've ever enjoyed any anime fighting game or area battle before, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is definitely worth a look, fan or no.
Let's get this part out of the way first. As you play through the game's main story mode, if you don't know the source material, you will have absolutely zero idea what is going on. Even with my limited knowledge, I struggled to keep characters, timelines and encounters straight in my head, almost to no avail. Normally, such a thing would earn a game the title of "for fans only" like so many anime games (I'm looking at you, My Hero's One Justice and One Justice 2), but Ultimate Ninja Storm 4's battle system is so well-refined and genuinely fun, I think even the most staunch anime-haters could still have a blast with this one.
Not to pile on, but aside from the story mode making little sense to Naruto virgins, the game does have one other giant flaw. A LOT of epic events during fights require quicktime events, in which you must hit a button, twirl a joystick or perform some other action as the game prompts you to. I've personally not really liked this mechanic since the Krauser fight in Resident Evil 4, but in small doses it is acceptable. It seems like almost every other fight, in story mode, this is, has these events, and it really takes the player out of the game and makes you feel like a spectator for some of the wildest battles and encounters. Even in just the very first fight, with two ninjas battling with giant, tree dwarfing animals (the nine-tailed fox and another), the battle is amazing until you are drawn out and forced to mash buttons. Like the story mode brushing off non-fans, it is an issue. Fortunately, neither detract from the overall game in enough of a way to make either a deal-breaker.
Now that we got the negatives out of the way, let's talk about just how jam-packed with content Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 ended up. The main story mode is where you'll begin, and battling through it will take several hours. Each fight has a set of optional (I'm a completionist... they were NOT optional to me) goals to accomplish - win with a special attack, win with 80% or more life left, etc. - and an S rank to achieve, so going for 100% completion will take not just some serious time, but some serious skills as well. Arena fighters sometimes get a bad rap as easy button-mashers, but Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 will definitely test your skills if you are going for those S ranks. What is nice is that if you just want to play through the story and not drive yourself nuts over optional objectives and ranks, you are absolutely free to do so. Even though I had no idea where the story was going and the quicktime events do grate on the nerves, I had an absolute blast finishing the story mode to 100%.
Most fighting games, especially anime fighting games, would stop with the story mode and go for the normal arcade, free battle, online battle, etc. options, but not Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. Obviously, you get all that stuff here too, but you also get adventure mode. This mode follows the story post the events of story mode, introducing Naruto's son, Baruto. Again, I had little idea what was going on with the story but this little adventure added a lot to my overall enjoyment of the game. This mode allows to move freely around the game's world, solving little quests and filling in a lot of the backstory. If you ever had the great pleasure of playing Naruto: Rise of the Ninja or The Broken Bond on Xbox 360, this mode is closer to those than a traditional fighting game, with a whole area to roam and lots of goals to accomplish. Honestly, adventure mode made this game for me, and I suspect it will seal the deal for a lot of others as well. It is fantastically executed and a ton of fun to play through.
"But wait... what's the fighting like?" An important question with a simple answer: it's a blast. If you've played Dragon Ball Xenoverse or Power Stone, you know the arena anime battler formula. In Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, though, the developers seem to have perfected that formula. With over 140+ fighters to pick from (yes, seriously) and the fights being three-on-three encounters with lots of character switching, these battles are nearly always hectic and exhilarating. And believe it or not, the characters really do feel like they each play in their own unique way. The team I took into online battles consisted of characters I recognized - Kakashi, Rock Lee and Zabuza - but so many of the fighters are just plain fun to control. Like I said, I'm not a person with deep Naruto knowledge so I couldn't name them all, but man, if you are looking for a diverse roster in a fighter, this is your game.
I should mention that because this game is a PS4 port that is quite a bit behind its original Japanese release window in making it to the States, people are concerned about the performance on the Switch. In the 40-50 hours I put in, I saw a single instance of slowdown (during on of the final battles of story mode), and the game just looks and plays fantastically overall. So for the framerate/resolution worries, you'll have no problems with Ultimate Ninja Storm 4.
Honestly, I could go on and on. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a huge game, and nearly every second of what it offers is pure anime fighter gold. The story mode might not have much story for people unfamiliar, but the fights and set pieces eclipse that. The adventure mode is an absolute blast and all the other standard fighter modes raise the bar as well. Here's the thing: I've developed a huge love for My Hero Academia (stick with me, I'm going somewhere with this). I was shocked to see that I'd spent nearly three times as much time with Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, a game with a story that is a mystery to me, than I had with One Justice 2. That is a testament to just how dang good this game is. If you've ever liked Naruto, fighting games or any kind of arena fighter, this should be next on your list. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is definitely the biggest, best Naruto game, and one of the best anime fighters I've ever played. Get this game.
Final Rating: 94% - One of the biggest and best anime fighters you'll play.