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Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Hands-On Impressions: The Shinobi Way

The Naruto series has had a long history, spanning more than 15 years, and branches out across media such as an animated television show, manga comics, and video games. The manga series ended last year, and it seems as though the Naruto Shippuden animated series may also come to a close soon. That shouldn't have much bearing on the fighting game series, based on the popular characters and story, but that isn't stopping developer CyberConnect 2 from going all out on the newest upcoming release of the fighting game. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 promises to be the biggest one yet.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 will be the first Naruto game developed specifically for the new generation of consoles and PC. The more powerful hardware allows for smooth, high resolution graphics and fast animations that more closely match the animated series. The cel-shaded graphics appear hand drawn, giving it a truly interactive comic feel. Special attacks also improved embellishments, so that they look crazy and over-the-top, befitting the anime. Battle arenas are also considerably bigger compared to previous games.

Although the game picks up from where the previous one leaves off, those new to Naruto or the fighting game series won't be left out in the cold. Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 will include the entirety of the Shippuden storyline, as told in previous games. So, players can choose to play the story from the very beginning. Despite the high popularity of the series, I only have bare knowledge of it, so the extra background will be much appreciated. At the very least, it might help me appreciate some the characters that appear in the game.

Gameplay is relatively straightforward and easy to pick up. Many other fighting games include individual character controls and combinations, which would have been near impossible for Ultimate Ninja Storm's roster of over 100 characters. All characters have the same controls and combos, but they will each perform signature moves when you execute special attacks.

My playthrough of the demo involved more button mashing than skill, but I still managed to put up a good fight. The 3D arena let me run and strafe to dodge my opponent's moves. I ended up executing a spectacular combined attack, where an ally appeared and added his power to mine, purely by accident. Still, the AI seems pretty smart, and the computer ultimately ended up winning.

There's a lot happening all at once in the Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 demo. Between all the fast moves and the big animation sequences, it was hard to tell who had the upper hand. Sometimes it seemed like I had my opponent locked in a long combo, and then tides changed suddenly, and my character became a punching bag. It's clear that in order to truly appreciate Naruto Shippuden, I would have to play it much more and get a better feel for the characters and what they do.

The time for fans to hone their ninja fighting skills will come when Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 releases for PS4, Xbox One and PC on February 9, 2016.

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