Inside Pulse 12

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact (Sony PSP)

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact
Publisher: Namco-Bandai
Developer: CyberConnect2
Genre: Beat-Em-Up
Release Date: 10/18/2011

It’s hard to believe that this is already my tenth review for a Naruto game. Best of all, I’m STILL not sick of them! In fact, I was pretty darn excited for Impact. This is despite the fact that the last PSP iteration I played, Kizuna Drive, was by far the worst one yet. How could I possibly still be excited?

For starters, this game was developed by CyberConnect2. They’re pretty much the kings of Naruto games. If there’s a good one, chances are they made it. Also, Impact goes further into the Shippuden storyline than any game before it. It also offered the first chances to play as Danzo and Ay. This alone made the game a must play for a diehard Naruto fan such as myself.

Despite being a part of the Ultimate Ninja series, Impact is not a fighting game. This also had me interested. Though I enjoyed Akatsuki Rising, I was still skeptical. Add on the fact that on its face, Impact looked like a Dynasty Warriors clone and there were just as many reasons to fear this game as there were to hope for the best.

Let’s see how things turned out.

Story/Modes

This is easily the most comprehensive Naruto game on the market, as it covers the Shippuden era all the way from the Kazekage Retrieval Arc to the Five Kage Summit Arc. What that means is that players will experience the full storyline from beginning to end. There are a couple of problems with this, however. For starters, it means that dedicated Naruto fans will have to play through the same chapters once more to get to the new stuff. Also, the Five Kage Summit Arc is an odd place to stop. While it does have a lot of stuff going on, it also is the beginning of a new era in the series, covering the Fourth Great Ninja War. With tons of new characters introduced and no resolution, it can feel like a bit of letdown. A lot of material is glossed over or changed to fit the game, but the main themes are still there. However, the tale will be completely foreign to those not versed in Naruto lore, as it does little to introduce characters. If you have never watched the first Naruto era, you won’t get quite a bit of this.

The main mode is the Ultimate Road. This has ten chapters to work through on an overworld map. You’ll view conversations, play through battles, and unlock secrets as you progress. Via map cards, you can unlock hidden areas that grant collectibles, extra cash, and even bonus levels. After you’ve beaten a level, you may unlock a bounty, asking you to replay the level in order to take out a specific enemy, and you’re rewarded nicely for the effort. The progression is pretty nice because it constantly rewards you with new characters, items, and challenges. My only real issue is that moving from one conversation event to another with no battle in between seems a bit redundant. Also, tense moments in the story can kind of be killed by the cheery music that plays on the overworld map.

There are two other modes to play through, both of which are unlocked as you progress through the story. The first is extra missions. These single player excursions are designed to test your skills against tougher opponents. The mode definitely feels like an afterthought, as there is no way to unlock card pieces, leaving it hollow. The other mode is Tag Mode. This allows you to hook up with an AI partner, or a human partner via ad-hoc, to make it through battles with cash as a reward. This is the only multiplayer component of the game, so it is sure to draw some attention. Both modes allow you to progress via earning experience and cash.

Overall, the modes are a bit of letdown. While the story mode offers plenty of raw content to get though, the secondary modes just aren’t as interesting. They also offer so little in the form of rewards that it makes more sense to keep replaying story missions.

Graphics

This is easily the best looking Naruto game on the PSP. However, the series has quickly fallen behind the times in that department.

The backgrounds look pretty detailed, and most locales offer varied areas to keep things from getting monotonous. For example, one level starts you off in the snow, but it gradually lessens until you reach a grassy area. Another location is a forest with a canyon nearby, complete with a river. Some things are a bit off though. The water is always stagnant, and there is consistent draw in that doesn’t jive well. There’s also no consistency. You can leave a crater in the ground according to the move you just performed, but the crater will be nowhere to be found seconds later. You can’t destroy trees either. This isn’t anything new, but it starts to become noticeable after so many games.

The character models look pretty good for the most part. The enemies are all finely detailed, although you’ll face identical masses. At least they don’t look like LEGO rejects as they did in Kizuna Drive. The main characters stand out though. Chaining moves together looks pretty cool, and some of the animations are quite fun to watch. The models can get a bit fuzzy around the edges though.

The effects are pretty far from the course for this kind of game, though there are some nice touches, such as water spurting up when you run across it. Characters are constantly spitting fire, blasting with electricity, and creating sharks out of water. It all looks good, though not as eye popping as the effects in something like Dissidia.

Perhaps the only real downside of the graphics department is the story scenes. These use the traditional static portraits to tell the story. Though they will occasionally change poses to fit the conversation, this happens too little. Kakashi would not stand idly by with hands in his pockets during battle, for example. They also occasionally features items moving in the background, such as leaves floating in the wind. These elements just reinforce how much better cutscenes would have been. It is understandable though. There is a lot of material to get through and only so much space on the UMD. It just feels old is all.

Audio

The first thing I noticed was the music. That is because it is almost entirely ripped from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. While that isn’t bad in the sense that the music is poor, it definitely makes the music seem like an afterthought and creates some serious deja vu. More to the point, some of the themes don’t quite fit this style of gameplay. Still, there are tons of tracks, and each are pretty good and fitting the moment and/or level. They’re purely background tunes though, and none of them will attract you outside of the game.

The voice acting is also par for the course, though there are plenty of new lines. Once again, you have a choice between English and Japanese actors. I find the Japanese superior for every character, though it does mean in game conversations could be missed if you’re too focused on fighting to read the subtitles. The work here is solid on the Japanese front, while the English actors are clearly phoning it in. They also horribly butcher names and pronunciations. I don’t know how anyone could stand it.

Most of what you’ll hear in this game is the constant sound of you thrashing into a group of enemies. Also, since you’re fighting dozens at a time, you’ll hear an endless parade of death screams. It gets annoying before long. The worst case of this is when you play as Naruto against hundreds of his clones. I had to turn the sound down low to avoid getting a headache. In this case, a gameplay design choice hurt the sound to a degree. The effects are solid, but you’ll hear them so much in so little time that they quickly grow old.

Gameplay

This game is interesting in that it combines elements of the Storm series with Kizuna Drive and then adds in some Dynasty Warriors mechanics. It creates a fairly unique entry in the series.

Basic combat is identical to KD. You use the melee button to start a combo, and at any point in the combo, you can tap the triangle button to land a finishing blow in the form of a jutsu. Depending on where you hit that button, the jutsu will differ. For example, after one punch, Naruto will use a shadow clone to land an uppercut. After a few, he’ll grab a bunch of clones and create a large sweeping attack. This was the best feature of KD and it works here as well. If you so choose, you can simply go for a regular jutsu as well. Like in Storm, this move can be charged for extra damage.

A big disappointment comes in how projectiles are handled. Like in lesser titles, you don’t get multiple items; instead, you can simply throw shuriken. The only thing special about this is that you can charge them with chakra for a damage boost. This is a far cry from other games where you could use paper bombs, specialized kunai, or even status boosting items. I was quite disappointed by this.

Defensively, you have three options. You can hold a shoulder button to block, time a button press to warp behind the opponent, or use a button combination to teleport a short distance in any direction. It felt pretty smooth and quickly became second nature. While blocking, you can absorb a few hits before the block is broken and you’re vulnerable. Also, using the substitution isn’t always the best idea, so teleporting is a great option. The multiple options keep the game from turning into a substitution-fest like Ninja Destiny.

Other options for battle come in the form of special techniques and awakenings. These work identically to Storm 2. You have a chakra gauge that you use up when you perform jutsu. In addition, if you have enough chakra, you can attempt a secret technique. If these land, you get to watch a quick shot of a ridiculously powerful attack landing, which does massive damage. As you defeat enemies, you build your awakening gauge. When this is full, you can activate it to become temporarily more powerful, and in some cases, the character takes another form. For example, Naruto unleashed the Nine Tails and brings on the hurt. These are essential tools for survival.

The camera is handled fairly well. You can adjust the camera with the d-pad if you wish, though if you use the lock on feature, it isn’t necessary all that often. The lock on works well when you’re one on one, as it keeps you on target and makes sure you don’t have any attacks going the wrong way. It will also automatically lock on to the strongest nearby enemy, allowing you to ignore the riff raff. It can get annoying when you’re dealing with the small fry, but the game would be worse off without it.

Another thing to mention, just because it is so much better than Kizuna Drive, is how you charge your chakra. It will slowly refill over time, but you can can also charge it at will. Best of all, you can stop whenever you want, meaning you don’t have to take an enemy hit every time you need a recharge! Hallelujah!

This game is very similar, mechanically, to Dynasty Warriors. You have a map to traverse with various objectives that come up over time. Characters speak to you in order to give you these objectives and fill in the story. Enemies come in massive groups that you can cut through like butter. Often in the middle of these weaklings will be a stronger unit that requires more attention. They’ll actually attack you and can’t be taken down in a couple of hits. The game has a combo meter that fills as you kill enemies. At certain milestones, you’ll be granted bonus experience. The combat gets very repetitive, however, because those masses of enemies offer no challenge, and each character has a combo designed to deal with them the best. One level requires you to fight off over a thousand enemies, which gets old real fast.

There is some slight character customization to be found. Each character has stats for strength, defense, health, speed, and the other basics. These get upgraded as you level, but can also be enhanced using cards. In order to get cards, you must collect all of the pieces. This is done by purchasing them in the store and by earning them in levels. At the end of each level, you’re given a ranking based on your performance. The better the ranking, the more card pieces you get. These cards mostly just buff your stats to various degrees, but some have niftier bonuses. The Sasori card, for example, adds poison to your blades. Cards can also form groups to offer additional bonuses. The best example is the crew of the ramen shop. If you have both equipped, then any ramen you find in a level will instantly refill your entire health bar. There are hundreds of cards and tons of combinations. My only problems is that it takes a long time before you get anything different or substantial.

Overall, I enjoyed the controls, card system, and character diversity. However, the basic gameplay was a bit weak. While it was serviceable, the enemy variety just wasn’t there and the poor handling of ninja tools was a bitter disappointment. This is especially true because of what the developer did for its other games regarding these tools. The truth is that while it has a nice package, this is a rather monotonous brawler that needed more variety to keep it interesting. If the player is getting bored during fights, that’s a serious problem.

Replayability

Simply to beat the main campaign, I spent over eighteen hours playing. Keep in mind that during this run I avoided all of the bonus missions and got high ranks for my speed. There is a ton of stuff to work through, and missions can range from a couple of minutes to closer to fifteen. In order to clear everything, you’re going to need to spend upwards of thirty hours with the game, which is a definitive improvement for the franchise.

The other two modes, tag and extra, are mostly there to kill time with when you’re looking to pick up and play. They’re aren’t very deep, nor do they offer much incentive to continue. However, they’re great distractions that won’t take you too long to finish. If you do end up getting into setting high scores or going for that S ranking, you could easily sink some extra time in.

There are twenty-six playable characters in the game. While you may have two versions of Naruto and three versions of Sasuke, there is still plenty of diversity there. You’re sure to find several favorites and work towards finding the best card combinations to fit them. This game is pretty good at giving you stuff to do, and while you won’t be replaying the story from scratch, you’ll get plenty of time out of it just the first time.

Balance

If all you’re trying to do is beat the main story, you’ll have a pretty easy time of it. On normal difficulty, enemies are pretty listless. The hordes line up to be slaughtered, and only bosses can dodge your attacks. Those bosses never use their secret techniques, and there are plenty of health items lying around to keep you out of danger. I died only a few times, and those instances were because of poison, which is where all of the damage came from. Orochimaru was a pain in that regard.

Even if you bite the dust, you have the option to instantly respawn with full health and chakra. The only penalty you take will be to your ranking, which doesn’t matter unless you’re trying to collect all of the cards. It makes getting through the story a cakewalk.

There are two higher difficulties, and these will make it harder to not die, but that’s about it. They serve only to allow you to get bonus card pieces. The best this game can do is to harm your ranking. It is next to impossible to straight up fail a mission. It doesn’t exactly add up to a tension builder.

Originality

I’m definitely not assigning points here. I’ve already mentioned how this game simply mixes ideas from previous games and adds a Dynasty Warriors aesthetic. I really can’t think of a single thing the game does that is unique.

Some may argue that the card system is a novel idea, but it’s pretty much the same as the scroll system in Kizuna Drive, only now, you earn parts of a card instead of an entire scroll. The idea of using cards in general was in Storm 2 as well. Not much new there.

Addictiveness

I manged to put twenty hours into this game in a few days. Truth be told, I was pushing myself through the game because I really wanted to get a crack at the new characters and story content, so I rushed through the rest as fast as I could. After all, I’ve played through the Kazekage story probably at least five times already, and I’m sure I’ll get to play it again when the next console game comes out. We dedicated fans could probably reenact the whole saga as a one man show.

The gameplay also gets quite monotonous. Playing on normal difficulty is simply boring because enemies won’t do anything to stop you. It reminded of that level in Kingdom Hearts II where you slaughter hundreds of helpless enemies by spamming the same two or three moves continuously. This is an entire game of almost nothing but that. After I finished the story, I had a hard time picking the game back up unless it was to try a new character.

Appeal Factor

What we’ve got here is a game that will only appeal to the most hardcore of Naruto fans. The big draws of this game for fans like me are the new characters and chapter. No one was really clamoring for a Dynasty Warriors clone, even in the Naruto universe. From a philosophical standpoint, it doesn’t even make sense. Very few ninjas would have the sheer stamina to fight hundreds of people at once. Shikamaru in particular stands out as someone whose character doesn’t fit this style of game.

What would have gone over better is probably a straight up Storm title making its way to the PSP. As it has been proven, the PSP is more than capable of handling a 3D fighter. While the console entries have made the switch, the PSP games have stayed 2D. A change would have been nice.

For non-fans of Naruto, this game isn’t for you. While the gameplay is competent, it isn’t interesting enough to hold your attention. More importantly, you won’t have or find the connection to the characters required to get the most out of this game. You’ll find a generic brawler.

Miscellaneous

One of the coolest things about this game is that it offers a wallpaper for your PSP for each character in the game. You have to earn them through use, but that is a pretty cool thing that most games don’t offer.

The character selection might bother some. A lot of notable characters were left out. Message boards are alive with requests for Neji, Sai, Yamato, Orochimaru, and others. Worst of all, several of these characters are in the game as partners, but just not available for play. Japan is going to offer DLC for the game, but it is unknown if the U.S. will get the same treatment.

Overall, this is yet another Naruto game that is for fans only. I definitely enjoyed my time with this game and I’m still working on getting 100% completion. That just shows you how dedicated people like me are when it comes to the franchise.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Above Average
Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact is not a game that is going to covert the non-believers. It offers a competent brawler experience, but doesn’t do anything to set itself apart from the pack. While fans are sure to find plenty to love, the average gamer just isn’t going to care. For a price of forty dollars, this game just isn’t worth it to most people. If you’re a hardcore Naruto fan, give the game a chance. It’s certainly better than Kizuna Drive and a lot of the games that get released for the DS.

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