Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippuden
So what's here for a Naruto fan? Even one who is looking for more current generation titles? Well, if you're a fan of the show then the Shippuden title should definitely pique your interest. Taking place years after the original Naruto series, Shippuden features slightly older, more mature characters. This new Naruto comes as a welcome relief to viewers looking for more than filler episodes and boring stuff, since the story finally gets a move on again. But of course that's just how it reflects on the anime. What's so different about it in game form? Sadly not a lot really. This is still a Naruto fighting game and the only real difference is that the character models are slightly older looking.
If you've played one Naruto game, you've more or less played them all. The difference is that each series approaches the content differently, and each installment improves upon that which came before it. So what does that mean for Ultimate Ninja 4? If you played Ultimate Ninja Storm it means that it's going to feel like a big step back. However, if you haven't played Storm and are coming to this title after playing Ultimate Ninja 3, then there's not going to feel like there's much improvement at all unfortunately.
Right off the bat there is a few modes to dabble with and for what it's worth they do last quite a while if you get into them. The Free Battle mode is where you'll be able to duke it out against friends who happen to come over, or against the CPU if you so desire. This mode is well and good for what it is, but considering other current generation Naruto games have offered online battles it feels a tad empty. The combat system is very good and will feel familiar to you if you have played any other Ultimate Ninja title. Jutsu, combos, and all manner of fighting mechanics are present here.
Master Mode is probably where the bulk of your time will be eaten up. This is basically the adventure segment of the game where you'll uncover morsels of story and run around a huge environment looking for things to do. There are plenty of puzzles to solve, places to see, and things to learn about what makes Shippuden a proper sequel. The problem with this mode, however, is the fact that the fighting is completely different from the Free Battle and what we've come to expect from other Naruto titles. You'll basically just mash a single button with absolutely no finesse. The combat has been transformed from a polished fighting game to a lame beat-em-up, and that's really a shame. Some will enjoy this mode more than others, but ultimately it's just not what it should have been at all. The final mode, Hero, is kind of tied into Master but rather than run through an environment looking for trouble you just go through cut scenes and play out key moments from Naruto's life.
Overall Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippuden isn't a bad game, but it's definitely a big step back after playing Ultimate Ninja Storm and the entries by Ubisoft on the Xbox 360. I appreciate the Shippuden component, but the lackluster Master and Hero modes do little to titillate. Even the Free Battle mode only lasts for so long, especially since you can't play online against other people. If you haven't played any of the 360 of PS3 titles then you may want to give this one a chance, but if you have there's no reason to go backwards.
Like the gameplay, the graphics here are a step back. The overall design of the game is fine enough and it captures the look of the show, but not quite as well as other Naruto titles have done. Still, the characters definitely stand out when propped up against the bland backgrounds. Their animation and battle effects are decent as well. Overall though, the game just maintains a low level of resolution that just doesn't match the quality of some of its brethren. The bottom line is this game looks "decent" for a PlayStation 2 title, but if you've been weaned onto PS3 and 360 graphics it just won't look as polished.
Thankfully the sound fairs much better than the graphics do. All around this package does the show justice and everything from the voiceovers to the music is reminiscent of the show. Some of the presentation can be a little flat at times due to the limitation of the audio's output, but overall there are no flaws with regards to the sound.
After experiencing Ubisoft's 360 entries and Ultimate Ninja Storm for the PS3, Ultimate Ninja 4 feels like a huge step back. The gameplay isn't quite as polished, the Master mode is a joke, there's no online component, and the graphics just aren't up to par. The bottom line is if you're a Naruto fan the only reason to check this title out is for the Shippuden license. Otherwise you can simply play the more current titles and just let this one pass. Even if you're interested the best you could hope for with this game is a rental.