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You can always count on the Ultimate Ninja series to provide flashy, over-the-top kung-fu craziness with each installment, and Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippuden certainly delivers the fireworks … for a PS2 game. But even if you’re a Narutophile, you should consider how deep your love for lil’ whiskers goes before investing in this one. For a franchise all about fighting, the recent Naruto games have been a bit too heavy on platforming and exploration, and Ultimate Ninja 4 is no exception.
Before you get to the main world hub, you’ll have to slog through the Black Shadow story arc, a brutally tedious campaign which consists of jumping from block to identical block, breaking open barrels for nearly useless items and fighting hordes of mindless drones who challenge only your ability to tap the circle button. It’ll be almost two hours before you hit your first boss, and he’s such a letdown that you may not have the drive to keep going afterward. It’s a shame, because the game gets much better when the focus returns to the flashy 1-on-1 ninja fights that made the series so popular. These are the highlight, and we wish there were more of them.
It’s nice that in making sequels, Namco Bandai isn’t merely pumping out the same fighting engine with only minor tweaks, characters and cutscenes. However, adventuring and multi-man brawling isn’t something the Ultimate Ninja series excels at. Without the smoke and mirrors of next-gen visuals, the Ultimate ninja series on the PS2 is beginning to lose its draw. Not that we’re graphics snobs - it’s just that all anime fans know how disappointing it is for a ninja to hide his full potential.
Fans will like that the plot picks up alongside the Naruto Shippuden anime series, beginning with the Black Shadow arc and slipping in some game-exclusive storylines along the way. For those unfamiliar with the Shippuden timeline, Ultimate Ninja 4’s main story has you playing as a slightly older (if just as hyperactive) version of ol’ fox-boy, and a significant amount of story has already transpired.
You can collect “Pieces of Memory” to unlock helpful expository materials, but it’s a bit odd; you have to get pretty far the main story if you want to collect enough Pieces of Memory to get caught up on what you were supposed to know in the first place. If you’ve been following the anime series religiously, have no fear. However, anyone unfamiliar with the exploits of Team 7 and Co. would be better off going with an earlier game in the series - one with fewer threads to pick up and maybe a stronger focus on the fighting. Or, just save your money so you can upgrade to a next-gen system – it’s time.
Apr 9, 2009