I was excited to check out the new intellectual properties in the Naruto franchise this year, despite being pretty new to the series in general. This week I decided to review “Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4,” going in mostly blind to the long-history of the franchise.

I know that diehard fans of the manga and movies/shows will probably trip over themselves to get their hands on the new game, but I wanted to see how it would hold up for anyone that may just want to try a new fighting game on the PS4 or Xbox One.

First off, for a Naruto noob like myself, I’m quite pleased with the fact that the game’s Story Mode actually does a pretty decent job of telling the story of the Fourth Great Ninja War and the character’s backstories. I’m not a huge fighting game fan, but I do enjoy fighting games with rich storylines (think BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena), and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (or UNS4 as it will be referred to from now on) delivers that in spades, even if the story is presented with static images. With that being said, players will relive major battles in the Naruto Shippuden narrative, and play through the adventures of Naruto, Sasuke and friends.

While the Story Mode is interesting to learn the story of Naruto, the area of the game where I really sank a ton of time into was the Adventure Mode. After completing the story, Adventure Mode gives you a huge playground where you can explore, complete certain challenges, and unlock a whole bunch of stuff for the large roster of fighters. It’s a cool mode that you can easily sink hours of your life into, and if you’re anything like me where you need to unlock everything a game can offer, then this is the place for you.

As a fighting game, UNS4 straddles the line between something more complex and an entry level button masher. There aren’t a lot of intricate combos to memorize (thank goodness), and special attacks are as simple as tapping the attack and chakra buttons in short combinations, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a “punch/kick” masher. While the game is pretty easy to pick up and play, learning the different forms of attacks is actually pretty time consuming. From the very first battle between Tobi and Madara, it’s clear that simply mashing attack buttons will quickly result in your demise. Truly mastering the combat system requires understanding the balance between melee and special attacks, and swapping in supporting characters to best utilize their strengths and to prolong the combo.

Graphically, UNS4 looks spectacular. Animations are fast and fluid, and the characters and environments look nice and sharp on the PS4. It looks pretty much exactly what I remember the show looking like, so if you imagine playing through an anime, then you’ll get the general gist of the game. That’s why it’s so disappointing that the cut scenes are merely static images with text dialogue. It would have been REALLY cool to have fully anime cutscenes, which can make a spectacular game (Persona 4) into a true classic and one of the greatest of all time (Persona 4 Golden). It’s a great looking game, but the cutscenes truly are a stain on what would have otherwise been something special.

Other features include the original Japanese, American, Mexican and Brazilian voiceover casts, so for those familiar with the show and movies will be pleased to hear some familiar voices. Perhaps most impressive is the huge roster of characters spanning the entire Naruto Shippuden story arc, including the latest additions to the anime. From what I can gather, UNS4 does quite a bit of fan service, so diehards should rest assured that this game is perfect for you.

So back to my original question; would Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 be something that a non-Naruto fan would play? Probably not. While the game does a good idea of explaining the Naruto universe to a newbie, trying to get a fighting game aficionado to play this game might be asking for a bit much due to the simplicity of the combat system. Sure, I mentioned that there is a bit of strategy involved, but it can’t really hold a candle to your more hardcore fighting game offerings out there. This is made for the Naruto fan, and seeing as how it is one of the more popular animes out there, I think that’s just fine.

4 out of 5 stars