The latest instalment in the Ultimate Ninja series of Naruto games is huge. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is the biggest of the series yet with tons of characters, lengthy story and adventure modes and thousands of unlockables.

I’m not really a fan of the Naruto anime, but I’ve played most of the games in this series. Why? The combat is fantastic, and Ninja Storm 4 is no different. It’s fast, lets you pick from most characters in the series and each one plays completely differently. Naruto has his classic Rasengan ability in his arsenal, Sasuke has about 5 different variations with differing movesets for each, and each character often has multiple costumes that also change their moves.

Free battles in this game are the best part of it, and can easily drain most of your time playing the game. These are just 1v1 or 3v3 fights against opponents of your choosing. There’s also Tournament and Survival modes. Survival is the most interesting, as it has you battle under certain conditions. Every successful fight in battle mode lets you unlock more conditions to fight under.

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Since I was new to the series, I think it’s safe to assume others are too and explain the battle system. For a fighting game, the Ultimate Ninja series are very non-traditional. There’s a reason you don’t see these games at Evo! Fights take place in a 3D space and you have a few options available to you – basic attack, throwing weapon, four items on your d-pad, blocking, throwing and a charge button that you press once or twice + the attack button to unleash special modes and finishers.

There are a handful of variations like team attacks that can also be pulled off. The game’s battle system revolves around one mechanic – dodge. You have a handful of dodges you can pull off that allow you to instantly dodge an attack. These dodges slowly come back as you fight, but more often than not if you use them up you’ll be left almost defenceless. Managing your dodges can be CRUCIAL to winning a fight, especially online. One wasted dodge and your opponent has the upper-hand. It can be a kind of tug-of-war when it comes to whittling down your opponent’s dodges so you have the upper hand.

On to the story portion of the game, there’s actually two modes this time. Story mode has you revisit scenes from the series and fight some of the iconic fights from the series. All of these were new to me, so it was interesting to learn more about the characters and see cool guy Sasuke being a whiny bitch. The story mode is huge, with multiple paths and side stories to unlock as you play. There’s no real exploration in this mode, but that’s where Adventure mode comes in.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s Adventure mode is the icing on the cake for Naruto fans. In this mode, you can explore the world as Naruto himself during the events after the main story. This includes doing side-quests for people in iconic Naruto places and taking on various challenges found in memory crystals – these are basically more classic Naruto fights that you find in the form of a tear-shaped crystal. They’re optional so you can collect them and then do the fight later. I can imagine that the Adventure mode is a real treat for those wanting to get more into the universe of Naruto. It has a wacky sense of humour but also adds depth to the characters you meet.

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The most impressive thing about the game is the art style. The series has done cel shaded graphics before, but this is a whole new level. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 actually looks like an anime. Running the game on PS4, I was blown away by how stunning the visuals actually were. There’s also some great sound design for characters and music that really add to the anime feeling. The voice acting is also good too, and gives you the option of playing with English or Japanese VA – a must have for many anime fans.

Now, it’s clear I like the game a lot but there’s still plenty of issues I have with it. Mainly though, it’s the insanely unbalanced characters. Now I know, in the series some characters are stronger than others, and that’s ok. The only problem with that when it’s translated to a game is that it’s hard to tell who the weaker characters are. The strong ones are obvious because you see them in a lot of story cutscenes. It’s easy to pick out who the best characters to play as are. I suppose this is something that a fan of the series wouldn’t have trouble with, but as someone who only plays the games I’m always a bit lost at the character select screen.

Another small annoyance is that the story mode is mostly screens from the anime with voiced dialogue and some sound effects, which really isn’t the best for conveying story. This was probably the better option for the devs though, as it wouldn’t require recreating classic scenes. Thinking about it, I suppose the Adventure mode was designed to be the mode that lets you explore and enjoy a light story without all the anime cutscenes.

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The game also has online play. Online play that is inherently flawed due to some characters being extremely more powerful than others. In the handful of games I played, I was often pit against powerful end-game or pre-order characters that could stun-lock me repeatedly, despite being able to dodge. It’s not necessarily a bad online mode,but I’d recommend playing with your friends and making the fights a little more fair. Chances are, some characters will be rebalanced and patched in time.

Your online profile with have a card that you can customise with unlockables found in the game’s Collection menu. There’s card backs, pictures, sound bites to accompany them as well as playable character costumes. You unlock these by collecting in-game currency from winning fights, called Ryo, and through the items you collect throughout every mode in the game – you get them for winning fights, performing certain moves in battle, or doing bonus challenges in fights during story and adventure mode.

Overall, this game is a lot of fun for fans and newbies alike. There’s tons to do, tons to unlock and plenty of fun times to be had playing with friends online or locally. This game is the entire series perfected, and if you like any of the others or are a Naruto fan you’re in for an absolute treat this time around.

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