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You might be wondering what the fuss is about over a yet-to-be-released title that already sounds like old news - Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja 4 is a PS2 installment, Japan’s had the game for a couple of years now, and PS3’s Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm came out last year. We liken Ultimate Ninja 4 to an old friend come back —sure, it’s an old friend who wants you to turn him on and play with him, but never fear, it’s a PG-relationship and you won’t have to change your Facebook status to the questionable “It’s Complicated” — with some new tricks up his sleeves.
Indeed, just as in the anime, Naruto Shippuden picks up a couple of years after the young ninja has left his home in the Hidden Leaf Village to train with his new tutor, super-ninja and “super-pervert” Jiraiya, and Naruto is now older, more powerful and still as upbeat as ever.
The game is split into several modes. The main quest occurs in the RPG-esque Master Mode, divided into story arcs from the first dozen or so episodes from Shippuden, with teenaged Naruto exploring a 3D world filled with missions, jobs and items. The characters are cel-shaded and the environments nicely rendered, especially the familiar village areas. A minor complaint here would be lack of free camera movement in some parts, like in the villages. There are also real-time battles. These tend to get a bit tedious and we wished the various goons didn’t take quite so long to put down. Still, as you gain experience, you learn new moves, which keeps things interesting.
Meanwhile, fights of the 2D persuasion, a staple of the Ultimate Ninja series, will interject into the story and missions every now and then. Those well versed in the series will find the controls nearly the same — pulling off relatively simple but fun to execute combos and jutsu techniques — with some new additions to mix things up. The biggest change: the mid-battle minigames that occur if the two fighters dash into one another or they use their regular jutsu moves at the same time, which usually involve a combination of on-screen button prompts and accurate timing to decide the victor.
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