A filler episode to tide fans over until the real series ender can be released.
The Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series does one thing absolutely consistently: It allows the Naruto games to continue increasing the ridiculous length and hyperbole of their titles. Admittedly, it could be longer, since "Shippuden" is a compound word that means "Hurricane Chronicles," or "Hurricane Legends," which saves us from the even lengthier "Naruto Hurricane Chronicles: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution" as a title with some kind of weirdly orientalist Japanese mystique. Admittedly this has little to do with the actual game, but the ever-expanding title does suggest the onset of franchise fatigue and bloat.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution (this is the last time I use the full name, I swear) feels suspiciously like a cash grab. In full disclosure, I am not a regular fan of the Naruto (or Naruto Shippuden) anime, due to what feels like ten minutes of recap in an twenty-two minutes episode. However, I adore Masashi Kishimoto's comic it's based on, though I haven't read it consistently since the end of Part 1. In order to get up to speed, I spent half a day reading up on characters and synopses after where I'd dropped off. Having done so, and seen the legacy of where that story's gone, the game still feels cheap.
Ninja Storm Revolution ditches the prior game mechanic of letting players play through the most recent plot developments of the anime for a sort-of world tournament side-story; it plays a lot like a filler episode of Naruto or Dragonball Z. Perhaps this is because the manga and anime are so close to finishing that developer CyberConnect2 wants to be able to devote Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 to the complete Naruto narrative, and Ninja Storm Revolution is just too close to chance a story mode that's so near its end.
So instead of the standard story mode, there is a secondary mode, Ninja Escapades, with three new animated stories by Studio Pierrot, with the first two stories broken up by in-game fights. The first tells the story of the recruitment of the Akatsuki members whose backstories are less developed, the second introduces a new member of the Uchiha clan and develops his relationship with Itachi Uchiha, and the third is a brief cinematic about Tobito's personal character, directly relating it to Naruto's own personal history. None of these are particularly well-developed and are either totally apocryphal or could be inferred by information from the regular Naruto series plot. If you aren't already a Naruto fan, and this paragraph sounds like random gobbledegook, just walk away—this review has nothing more for you to see.
The primary single-player aspect of the game is its World Tournament mode. The main story here is about a new character named Mecha-Naruto, designed for the game by Masashi Kishimoto himself. Not coincidentally, and capitalistically-inclined, on the same day the game released in Japan, two Naruto Shippuden filler episodes aired that featured Mecha-Naruto (which introduce the character and have him destroyed by the end of the hour). Story-wise, it all feels watered down, boring, and padded to extend the content.
In terms of gameplay, in individual fights Ninja Storm Revolution adds a few new features including a counter mechanic that has to be specifically timed and stuns opponents, making them easy pickings. It also includes a defense breaker, slightly changing the flow of the game when these techniques are in play. It keeps the team member interactions—to help out of a tight spot—substitution jutsus (so that when attacked you can replace your body with a log, or smoke, depending on the character) and ultimate jutsus (Uchiha characters' genjitsu, Naruto's more advanced Rassengan techniques, etc.) make for satisfying destruction. This is particularly fun in more traditional battles that are played in the side stories.
The tournament fights in the game are problematic, and this is unfortunate since they're touted as the main single-player event. Each is a series of four-player matches where instead of a life-bar, players are awarded a certain number of orbs. By striking opponents you dislodge their orbs, and the goal is to have the most orbs at the end of a time limit. Though other mechanics, like traps and rails for special environmental attacks, are later added that help increase the fun, these battles are stale and don't allow for the use of jutsus or other special attacks, ignoring one of the most attractive parts of gameplay.
Online play has several components, including the development of Network Clone fighters of character players who can then fight other players in their single-player games between tournament rounds. There are also standard online battles between players that prior fans of the series will enjoy. The game features 100 characters, all of whom play and feel exactly like you would hope they would—one of the series greatest assets. However, without the story to give them context, their only real use is for online play. This may be enough for fans of the series.
However, for people entering the series or are just Naruto fans looking for a fun fighting game, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution feels like it's spinning its wheels, waiting for the Naruto series to end so a game that tells the complete story can be released. On a whole, its biggest fault is that it's just adequate. It doesn't matter how well-realized the characters are, if they don't have anything interesting to do.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on PS3 version. Also available on PC and Xbox 360.