The Ninja Storm games have become somewhat synonymous with arena fighters, and for good reason. While they may not pack on much depth, they do have a good presentation and give players a neat way to re-explore their favorite moments of the popular Naruto anime. These games are definitely being made for somebody who enjoys them, and I recognize that, but playing Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections didn’t really show me why. Between a story that reduces much of the depth of the series and a combat system that makes every character play too similar, Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections feels like a Greatest Hits sampler that tries to include everything and doesn’t succeed at doing any of it very well.
A path with no end
Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections is an arena fighter that tries to cover most of the Naruto universe from the very first episode up to the Boruto series. There are a few game modes to play that include two different story modes. One of them focuses entirely on Naruto arcs, running from the formation of Team 7 under Kakashi to Naruto and Sasuke’s last battle following the defeat of Kaguya. There’s also a special story featuring Boruto and his friends in their own arc. Between all of that, nearly every notable character that has ever appeared in the Naruto and Boruto franchises is included in this game, some of them with multiple forms throughout their growth as characters. It’s an absolutely massive roster to say the least.
For all of that, there are a few other ways to play the game. You can play through the above mentioned story modes. Free Battle lets you play one-on-one, practice in training, set up multiple styles of tournaments, and try to make last as long as you can in Survival mode. You can even customize characters in the free battle menu with accessories gained through playing the game and satisfying certain conditions. These accessories let you equip characters with unique abilities. Finally, you can register teams for combat that you can then access quickly in the character select screen.
For all of this content, I wish the depth of Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections was as expansive as its roster and modes. When I played the first arc of the Naruto stories, it had me fight with Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura vs. Kakashi in their test to become Kakashi’s Team 7 students. Then it shot me right to the Land of Waves Bridge arc where Naruto and Sasuke fought Haku and Kakashi fought Zabuza. Then it was right to the Chunin Exam arc where Naruto fought Kiba. That’s more than 20 episodes of the anime distilled into about a 25-minute stretch. The pace is breakneck to say the least and I can’t grasp how anyone could connect with the story or its characters unless they were already a fan of Naruto coming in.
I’ll give Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections credit for this much: CyberConnect2 certainly has its presentation down pat in fights. The battles look flashy and the special attacks, ninjutsu, and finishing moves are a definite highlight of this, especially spread between so many characters that make up its roster. What I don’t appreciate alongside the speed and simplification of the story is how it uses weirdly grainy stills from the anime for much of its narrative intercuts. When the gameplay and characters in-engine look so clean, it’s weird and jarring to have these fuzzy screenshots that look like someone pulled them right from a 480p source.
Battle of the B-Buttons
As far as Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections fights go, the depth of the roster represents much of the depth entirely. The characters have different moves, certainly, but their execution doesn't really change. For pretty much all of the roster, combat almost entirely boils down to mashing a melee button to combo your opponent, throwing shuriken, and escaping if your opponent catches you with a combo. Once you have an opponent locked in, it's about trying to finish combos with a character’s special Ninjutsu attacks or a special Secret Technique finish if they’re low enough on health.
Every single one of the characters in the game works this way and the battles boil down to the above formula with the occasional evasion or chase maneuver to keep after your opponent when they flee your attacks. You can even simplify the system down further if you want by turning on Simple controls that let you mash just one button to do situational combos and Ninjutsu attacks. I’m all for accessibility, but when this formula applies to pretty much every character in the game it feels like there’s little room for nuance, learning, and mastery.
The game offers some sense of a challenge in that you’re graded on how well you did in a fight, but getting something like an S-rank mostly just means not getting hit at all, hitting a certain amount of Ninjutsu attacks in a match, and finishing with your Secret Technique finisher before a certain amount of time passes. Don’t get me wrong. The Ninjutsu attacks and Secret Techniques are fun to watch, especially when you get a cinematic finish. I just feel there’s no challenge to getting to that point and I wonder how we got here from a game like Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Hinokami Chronicles that at least provided some level of nuance and differentiation in playing characters.
Calm as a puddle, and just as deep
I cannot stop wondering who Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections is for. It feels too reductive of the source material to pull players into the story beyond a shallow retread. Meanwhile, pretty much every character and their execution play far too similar, so I don’t know what a fan of fighting games would get out of this. If you want lots of Naruto and Boruto, a quick retread of their paths and the spectacle some of their best attacks and battle moments in the CyberConnect2 arena fighter style, maybe Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections is for you, because it at least gets the in-fight presentation right. Otherwise, I just found this buffet to be too bland.
This review is based on a PC digital copy provided by the publisher. Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections comes out on November 16, 2023, on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
- Gigantic roster of characters from the Naruto/Boruto series
- In-fight presentation is flashy and stylish
- A wide number of ways to play
- Story is ridiculously reductive of the source
- Narrative cutscenes include low-quality anime stills
- Most characters operate too similarly