As I settled in to my seat and picked up the PlayStation 4 controller, only two feet away from both a 40″ screen and a fresh copy of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, the words from the opening presentation at last week’s Bandai Namco ‘Level Up’ press event were still in my head:
“It really is just like playing an anime. It is the first time we’ve been able to deliver that kind of quality in a game” – Gary Chantler, UK Product Manager, Bandai Namco
With that promise hanging like a katana over my head, I leapt back into a world I hadn’t enjoyed since London Anime and Gaming Con. That time, it was this title’s predecessor, and I was vying for a spot on the leaderboard. It didn’t go well – my opponent had obviously put in a lot of hours, and I exited after the second round, tail between my legs. I remember consoling myself by playing serious amounts of FIFA 14 afterwards.
As soon as you fire up Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, you realise that they really have made some huge leaps forward. The opening sequences, of course, look exactly like the Naruto anime. This doesn’t surprise or delight me – I’m expecting the segues between the action to be nothing short of HD-quality anime, since it is just video.
What I wasn’t quite expecting was that there really is no transition at all between the canned video and the game itself. Playing as a character that is taking the form of a toad, I was thrown into a cavern, sent to dispatch an alarming number of foes. Some were small enough to crush underfoot. Others were as big as my toady projection and required a few well-timed attacks before they left this mortal coil.
It wasn’t long before the body count started appearing on-screen, almost in celebration of the amount of leaping, jumping, crushing carnage I was dolling out. 500 defeated. 1,000 defeated. 2,000 defeated. At this point, the game started to feel more like Dynasty Warriors than Naruto, but that didn’t last long.
After making my way through the cavern, I faced my first mini-boss. Looking not unlike a mildly evil Baymax, I set about using my new-found toad abilities to send this blobby bad boy off to the land of eternal nod. It took a little while, but eventually I got into the quick-time event section of the game. In addition to single events, I had to do some serious repeated button bashing, lots of circular analogue stick swiveling, a few taps of the shoulder buttons, and more. They certainly like to keep you on your toes with the QTE elements, and while I generally dislike this type of mechanic more than almost any other, they actually fit well within Ultimate Ninja Storm 4.
After turning Mr. Blobby into an ex-boss, it was time to get serious. I won’t say that the following boss character was big, but when I tell you that I spent a good three minutes surfing on several of its tentacles to get to the core beast, it’ll give you some idea of the scope of this thing.
There I am, surfing, soaring, avoiding missiles, and it hits me. At no point has any of this maelstrom staggered, glitched, paused, or stumbled. Everything has been seamless, from start to finish. Throughout, the graphics felt exactly like watching a high-quality anime. Except I’m not watching; I’m playing. The audio experience that goes along with these incredible images is perfect. The visual effects are off the charts. The gameplay is balanced and brilliant.
And we’re still months away from launch.
“Team 7 is back from the dead,” Chantler said. If that statement alone isn’t enough to get Naruto fans chomping at the bit, the sheer quality and experience of playing Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is bound to convert those of us – me included – that aren’t quite at fandom level 3. When NS:UNS4 is launched in Autumn/Fall 2015, I’ll be among those lining up to play it again.