NARUTO Shippuden


Written by Chris Price
11 Monday 11th October 2010

Remember earlier this year when the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid came out? Turned out to be a bit of a misnomer. There wasn’t much karate in it, and what was in it was shown to of limited use in the present day. Waxing car bonnets, kata’s and the odd crane kick might’ve grossed $90mil for Ralph Macchio and co. back in 1984, but in 2010, young teenagers seem to need a bit more art to go with their martial.

Early 80s America was intrigued with karate thanks to martial arts films from the East filtering into the videostore ecosystem, and the sport's tangible rewards of belts, and the chance for kids to learn how to properly punch other kids without snapping their hand off. Karate Kid galvanized this interest, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sent it mainstream, and since then, teen memes have regularly flowed in from Japan – video games, card games and comics.
Weekly Japanese manga bible Shonen Jump was one such publication that offered western distributors comic strands a world away from Marvel and DC. Aimed at 8 – 12 year old boys, championing virtuous behaviour mixed with traditional Japanese heritage – and being Japanese, throwing in some toilet humour and some memorable characters. Kids didn’t want to be karateka no more. They wanted to be ninjas. Ninja’s can go invisible don’t you know. They also carry massive shiny swords.
One of the most successful franchises is Naruto – a manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto, starring adolescent ninja Naruto Uzumaki, and his quest for recognition amongst his peers, and his goal to become a Hokage,
As technology has advanced, so has the creative potential of animation based games. The opportunity to assume the mantle of your favourite Shonen-Jump hero has perpetually increased, as has the worlds they inhabit. And the capability to store reams of video, as well as the creation of the animation-esque ‘cel-shaded’ graphical style, has all but perfected the ‘interactive cartoon’( that games like Dragons Lair, Space Ace and Switch tried so valiantly to achieve almost two decades ago). This is where NARUTO Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 comes in.
The Shippuden bit of the name refers to the arcing Part II storyline (no less than chapter 245 into the chronology of the books) and sees Naruto doing battle with the Akatsuki organization – a bunch of bad bastards intent on taking the animal spirit locked in Naruto’s body – the source of his ‘Chakra’, which I can only assume is the reason behind his unflappable enthusiasm for everything.
NSUNS2 is a visual delight. Of the three modes on offer Adventure is lifted straight from the cels of the animation. Camera angles and every movement camera are 100% authentic, Naruto barrels about each location. The narrative mode of the game is Naruto, returning to the village of Konohagakure, fresh from his ninja training in the wilderness.
Novices are dropped in at the deep end, engulfed by Japanese names, ranks and titles (key story elements from the Part 1 strand are doled out through completing tasks, in original artwork stills). The game takes a forage and return mechanic, completing errands for villagers, collecting rare items to be manufactured into skill enhancing Bento boxes. Errands are split into story missions to move the story forward, or sub-missions to gain awards, in a similar way to SEGA’s Yakuza series.
And just like Yakuza, each mission normally ends in some form of punch-up. Just like each edition of the manga - a little comic relief leads to a moral setup requiring a physical pay-off. This is where NSUNS2 comes into it’s own. Over a bulging back catalogue of games the fight system has developed into a tween friendly combination of quick-time button mashing and timed button reactions against a free-form arena fight system, also employing a tag-team support system.
The strange perspective has been refined through the ages to allow fast attack, defence and parry combinations to pummel orbs of ‘Chakra’ out of your opponent– plus a jumping rush to close the gap between you and your enemy. Ample time is given to input simple throws or attack combinations, and a double tap of the ‘Y’ button utilises your ‘chakra’ bar to unleash a retina blistering combination of attacks with a nice little animated visual sequence. Sufficient battering will engage a quick-time final battle, a timing and response exercise set to several minutes of sublime Japanimation.
The reason the Naruto brand has survived for so long is due to the fantastic character creation by Masashi Kishimoto and their real-world adolescent struggles that kids on every continent go through. They are the reason thousands of people attend the annual MCM Expo dressed as Kakashi Hatake or at the very least wearing their Team 7 hitai-ite bandana with pride. A character roster of over 40 characters strong, staffing the most comprehensive Naruto experience yet. Each individual characters personality and interpersonal interaction is given ample time to pick favourites (plus Tekken 6 fans can also unlock a playable Lars as redesigned by Kishimoto-san).
The limited and inconspicuous RPG elements are designed with its male tween audience firmly in mind, encouraging perseverance for the loyal but for the more hyperactive teens, the wealth of text could prove laborious. Yet the game is eager to drive you forward, with big glowing arrows at every turn, and a forgiving difficulty level. It’s a safe pair of hands for parents too – constantly extolling the virtues of good over evil, and the success of the underdog – hard work, compassion and respect for your elders and those in authority. The very same values that the Karate Kid’s championed. 
It might exist in a world where you can freeze the sky and drop it onto your opponent, but after submission, hands will be shaken and everyone will have learnt a valuable moral lesson. If Naruto were on the curriculum, I’ll wager there’d be less chaos on the N29 of a Saturday night.
NARUTO Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is available for PS3 & XBOX 360 on Friday October 16.


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