Shark Ninja is so freakin' OP.
I will profess that I'm not much of an animé fan. As a self-professed nerd, I've 'dabbled', of course, but much of what plays on Cartoon Network just... doesn't do much for me. Of particular note is Naruto, a show about ninjas who have ninja-magic but also things like cell phones, though they live in adobe huts or something like that. Is my paraphrase negatively written? Absolutely. I cannot stand that show, I cannot stand the "lead" character, I cannot stand their trite, cliché approach to television. If an epic battle takes place over the course of three episodes, I will reason, I'd much rather go watch any number of Die Hard films instead.
[image1]So I was not exactly jumping for joy at the opportunity to review Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. And to some extent, my dislike of the animé appropriately extended to the game; I hated the screechy and whiny voices in the show, and the game is no different. I cannot stand some of the traditional stereotypes use in the show, and I still have to deal with "I am silent man and as such you should fear me but first I shall reveal my plot to you, you fools, fufufufu."
The plot can be summed up as such: You've got this guy who (despite being one of the most antisocial SOB's I've ever seen) gets kidnapped, because he's got a monster in him, and so you control another socially retarded SOB (who's more of the "can I sit with you guys at the lunch table, I'll eat dirt if you let me!" type of guy) to go save the other guy from his kidnapper, whose got this vaguely pedophilic air about him, and wheee!, you can revive people from the dead with special chi from an old lady who eventually learns the error of her ways, and oh you fight a shark. Yes, in that run-on sentence, the "shark" part sounds the coolest; it really isn't.
With that in mind... there's no point in reviewing this game on merits like "articulate plot" (or lack thereof). This is a fighting game; a form of entertainment as simple and bloody as the pre-video game era, when people would start World Wars when they got sick of being bored (and lemme tell yah, those Wars had some epic replay value).
Though fighting games aren't my forte, there were times during my playthrough when I actually experienced joy - it'sa thoroughly confusing sensation. Naruto plays much like any other fighting game, save that there seems to be no vaguely erotic magnetism between your face and your opponent's on a 2D plane; rather, you're given the ability to sprint around a large, circular map. While there's no true freedom to the map inside that circle - you may not interact with the environment, and every "level" is the exact same circle with a different skin) - the fact that you're allowed to move on a three-dimensional plane is worth mentioning.
[image2]When attacking your opponent, you have for all intents and purposes five interactions: movement, melee attacks, ranged attacks, blocking, and all-purpose chakra usage. The simplicity of combat is instantly appealing, but there's another level of depth that comes into play in the middle of battle. Besides the obligatory button-masher combo (my favorite strategy), there are several timed moves that mix up the game of 'punch, block, punch, block'. If an opponent catches you in an apparently inescapable combo, pressing 'block' at the perfect time will teleport your fighter behind your opponent, allowing for a vicious counterattack to what might otherwise be a lethal end. Clicking the "chakra button" in the middle of a combo expends your special meter, but allows you to perform a devastating attack, depending on what combo comes before it. And, should you have teammates, the right combination of buttons will unleash a terrifying "OMG Everything Dies" attack.
The graphics are heavily stylized and intensely fun to watch, yet still makes objects distinct enough to avoid confusion. Every doom team attack includes an amazing cinematic, so even if your ass gets handed to you, it still looks pretty. Of particular note is the way the cel-shading manages to make everything pop, especially objects that you can interact with - be they characters in the story mode or a face you should punch in battle. Nothing is too stylized to feel out of place.
The multiplayer component is a mixed bag. While split-screen is handled fairly well, trying to find an online match is comparable to playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic. And then when you finally manage to get online, you'll either have weird "lag spikes" that cause you to stare stupidly at the ground or find someone who spams the same moves over and over again. The battle modes (and, by extension, multiplayer) are engaging enough to continue playing long after you've lost the receipt for buying the game, and if games like Capcom vs. SNK and Soul Calibur can be sold (and make a nice profit!) with a barely existent storyline, there's no reason why Naruto should be judged any differently.
The story is full of incredible stupid clichés, the dialogue dubbing is just horrifying, and there's not much that made me feel quite so embarrassed as my boss and a coworker walking in on my playing Naruto, in the middle of one of the titular character's strange and tangential rants. Super awesome ninja he may be, but that boy needs to have his larynx removed. Nonetheless, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is an adequate fighting title that Naruto fans - and likely only them - should pick up.