Dylan Pearl, ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Quick, what’s the best fighting game? Is it Tekken? Street Fighter? Mortal Kombat? Or maybe, the perennial favorite of the fighting game community: Super Smash Bros.? Unfortunately, all these answers are incorrect. Don’t get it twisted, these games are indeed awesome. Every gamer has felt that rush of satisfaction from landing Marshall Law’s backflip head kick, or executing the legendary Sub-Zero spine rip fatality. But, those games are stale, and far too similar. There’s no innovation; the gameplay is tired, the characters blend together, and the only thing that really changes is the graphics. However, there is one series that’s breaking the trend, that tries to be different and succeeds fantastically: Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm.
This series is completely unlike any of its contemporaries. Even for people who’ve never heard of Naruto, these games offer the most satisfying and unique gaming experience anywhere. From its incredible animation to its huge roster of characters, to its unrivaled complexity, these games routinely push the limits of what fighting games can be. Unfortunately, this is a fact that has gone largely unnoticed. These games have been branded as “anime games,” part of a niche market, reserved for only the nerdiest and most virginal of gamers, and as such have never seen the light of mainstream success. This is a shame, because they feature some of the best mechanics of any fighting game out there and hold the potential to change the way we view the genre.
Most fighting games are two-dimensional, meaning they feature two characters moving back and forth on an XY axis. This has been the format since Street Fighter was a standup arcade game, and although the graphics have improved tremendously, the core elements are still the same. This is a tired mechanic, and one that only scratches the surface of what fighting games are capable of. The Naruto series has no such problems. It employs a 360 degree combat system, shared only by the Dragonball Z series of games. This means that the fighting area is a full three hundred and sixty degree circle, and as such, the characters are free to move in any direction instead of being limited to just up, down, forward, and backward, as they are in other games.
Obviously, this allows for more dynamic, agile gameplay, as players are free to flip, fly, and jump anywhere they wish, interact with environmental hazards, and even knock opponents out of the ring to their deaths. This style of fighting is unique to these games and unshackles the player from the back and forth binary that has been presented as the norm for fighting games, introducing them to a world where they can jump into the air and rain down punishing attacks on their enemies from above.
The controls are shockingly easy to learn. Most fighting games require complex button combinations to do the best combos, which often results in button mashing when players are unable to execute the harder moves. This is a serious flaw in game design; a character that’s too difficult to use properly is about as fun as a lecture on Armenian corporate tax laws. But in N:UNS all combos are executed through a combination of a single button and the joystick. The result is fast, seamless gameplay that allows anyone to immediately pick up a controller and be a ninja master. However, don’t mistake simplicity for ease. The game is extremely complex and multilayered. From simple game mechanics all the up to high-level meta-game strategy, there is always something new to uncover about this game.
The game features over 118 playable characters, each offering a completely different gameplay experiences. And within those 118 characters, there are a number of variations on move sets and appearances. No other fighting game can come close those kinds of numbers, and the result is a ludicrously expansive game that caters to any kind of play style. Do you want to be a long rage fighter, shooting fireballs from a distance? There’s a character for that. Or maybe you want to rush in, and beat your enemies to a pulp with your bare hands? There’s a character for that too. Maybe you just want to turn into a giant monster and smash your opponent? Great news: there are about ten characters that do just that.
And perhaps more importantly, there are major differences between the characters. Sometimes, in other games, the characters blend together. They play the same, their moves are similar, whatever. This again, is a failure of game design. No two characters are alike in N:UNS; some are weak, with terrible attacks and short combos, some are obscenely powerful, summoning giant monsters and meteors from the sky, but they all feel unique. Because of this, the game is actually more balanced than games where all characters are essentially the same. Even though some characters seem overpowered, everything can be countered. Nothing is unbeatable, it’s just a matter of discerning the correct strategy, a concept that should be standard in all fighting games.
And finally, the animation is superb. Colorful and fun, it sets the game apart from the dark and dirty color pallets of games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken. The game features incredible cut scenes and animations for special attacks that rival, and in some cases surpass, the show itself, showcasing the grand and fantastical nature of the Naruto universe.
So why then, have these incredible games not received the love they deserve? Simply put, they have never been given the chance. People see the colorful anime characters on the cover and immediately write it off. This is a trevesty; these games offer the first genuine innovation in the genre in years, and yet they go unloved, simply because they hail from source material that is outside the mainstream. However, if given the opportunity, these games could become the foundation for a whole new generation of fighting platforms, a fact which—whether they know it or not—gamers would welcome.