I've always been a fan of the CyberConnect2's Naruto Storm games. Not only were they the first game to truly nail not only the anime aesthetics, they were also the first to offer completely simplistic yet exhilarating combat, that delivered on the promise to make it feel like you're playing the anime series. The latest venture, dubbed Generations, gives fans not only a crash course into the original Naruto storyline, but the more grown up Shippuden storyline as well. Does this mash-up of generations make this the ultimate Naruto game?
Yes and no. Generations is an odd end-result of a line of games that were both extremely fun and informative (when recapping the story) and completely approachable by anyone willing to pick up a controller and take a stab at it. Ultimate Jutsu's were only a button press away, stylish air dashes and substitutions were pulled off with ease, and each and every battle was a spectacle to watch. The first two games also had a nice sense of exploration and had players venturing through Hidden Leaf Village in Storm, and even surrounding areas in Storm 2. So where does Generations stand in all of this?
Right in the middle.
The combat is still as simplistic as ever. With one button, you can pull off incredible and fluid combos that will have your character kicking your opponents ass from one side of the arena to the next. There are absolutely no button input combinations a-la Street Fighter, instead, pressing the action button with various directions will yield different combos. It's a neat system that helps make the game feel more like the anime. A ranged button will throw shurikens and kunais at your enemies, and your Jutsu button will activate your aura to either execute a super move, or an ultimate move.
If you're at all used to any of the previous Storm games, chances are you'll feel right at home here, but rest assured there are a few tweaks. The biggest one is a substitution meter. In essence, previous games relied on a precise block button input, right as you're about to get hit. This will turn your character into a stump of wood, or whatever element they represent, and pop up immediately behind the attacking character. This was a great system which allowed for players stuck in combos, to quickly change the flow of combat and get an upper hand. The problem here was that this could be used over and over by both characters, resulting in a substitution duel, rather than an actual fight. The new substitution meter only gives a certain amount of substitutions each character can pull off, until it's replenished. It's a welcome addition that doesn't make that system feel cheap.
You can still select up to two support characters to take along to the fight with you, but you still can't switch to them mid-combat, instead you can call upon them to jump in and perform their offensive or defensive move. Call upon them enough and your Support Drive will fill up, meaning they'll jump in and help regardless of you pressing their button. Another sweet addition are the Ninja Info Cards. These can now be tied to your profile which not only personalize it, but each card grants a certain buff in game. These are especially useful when taking the fight online.
Where Generations differs greatly from it's predecessors is the presentation. I was excited to hear that both the original and the Shippuden storylines were being included in the game, as I was really hoping to play through them in a similar manner as Storm 2. I wanted to once again explore the lands that the world of Naruto takes place in, and once again experience the battles that made the series so heart pumping. Instead, the game decided to go completely back to basics. The story is now even more abridged, with a ton of key fights not even present in each story, but the exploration was completely taken out. Now, each story is essentially a short anime cutscene, and then a bunch of voiced over stills, followed by a short fight. Was I a bit disappointed? Definitely.
The exploration wasn't the only thing that was cut. Some of the key fights that don't appear in the game, were actually some of the most exhilarating ones from the previous games. Where is the fight with Naruto against Gaara, where Gaara unleashes his Jinchuuriki, and then Naruto is forced to fight the giant beast that resides within him. Or for that matter, I also miss the mid battle cutscenes that resulted in a few QTE instances, which always had some epic animations associated with it. Instead the game is completely stripped bare down to the essentials, which results in short fight after short fight, with some exposition thrown in between. With that said, the other characters you can play as in Story mode offer some truly great back stories that were not touched on previously in Naruto games, such as the tale of Zabuza and Haku.
I think what also bothers me the most about the game is that despite the minor tweaks to the fighting mechanics, I could almost not distinguish this game from it's two predecessors. Though there are 38 stages, a lot of them are exactly the same ones we've been seeing in the past games. It's tough to improve on something graphically that already looks so damn impressive, and this I understand, but at the same time, I shouldn't be feeling like I'm playing the same (or very similar) game I've played before. But then again, I can't even imagine how Call of Duty players feel like year after year. I said it.
Don't get me wrong however, Generations is still an extremely fun game. The fact that it's devoid of many of the features that I've grown to love in the series does not negate the fact that the fighting is still incredibly fun. There are still a ton of things I love about Generations. For one, the sheer amount of characters that you unlock (yes you heard right, unlock!) throughout the game are all fun to play as. Sure there are a few versions of Naruto and a few versions of Sasuke, not to mention young and older versions of his friends, but luckily each of these come with varied movesets, that don't resemble their counterparts. The total number of playable characters is a massive 72, along with 15 more characters that can only be used as support.
You can take the fight online like I mentioned previously but this experience is hit or miss, or at least it was in my attempts. When trying to set certain parameters for finding other people to play, I would usually time out, or by the time I was presented with other players, it said they're room was already full. Quick Matches yielded better results here and there, and when it actually did work, it was a blast! Though be prepared to know your Jutsu's, people are truly relentless online.
There is also a ton of collecting to do in the game. Each fight nets you a Ryo (currency) bonus, which you can use to spend on items in the shop, such as different substitutions, new Ninja Info Cards, or titles which you can adorn your cards with. It's not all amazing stuff, but those into collecting everything will have tons to do in Generations.
I've already mentioned that the game is damn near impossible to distinguish from its anime counterpart, save for the extremely fluid animations, but it also sounds amazing. Fans of the show can use the original Japanese voices or the American dub as well, and the soundtrack is brimming with Naruto goodness. Honestly, these songs range from epic Asian influenced combat songs, to somber and moving tunes which only enhance whatever the current scenario playing out is.
I don't have to tell Naruto fans twice, as they've had this game pre-ordered for months I'm sure or already have it in their systems now. Outsiders that want to break into the Naruto franchise might actually have the best chance with Generations. Though I've stated that some key battles were left out of the main storylines, you can still get a gist of what the storyline is about, and walk away with a general understanding of the series. Though Generations won't impress the hardcore fighting fans with it's simplistic combat, it's still fun enough for anyone to pick and play, and have a great time with. Believe it! (Sorry, I just had to)