If you're looking for an introduction into the massive Naruto universe, this isn't it. But if you love Naruto and fighting, buckle your seat belt.
So, Naruto is another pop culture phenomenon that I know next to nothing about. When I hear "ninja" yet see a blonde kid in an orange jumpsuit running with his hands behind his back, it just doesn't add up for me. Now, obviously I'm just kidding and being a bit asinine, but my point is that I have never been drawn into the world of Naruto, which spans nearly all forms of media, including already three or four games this generation.
That said, STORM Generations is different from the two previous STORM games in that Generations is focused solely on bringing together an insanely large cast of playable characters (seventy-two, although far less than half of that are available at first boot) for Naruto-super fans to take online or against the CPU in a handful of modes. There is no free-roaming RPG element here, but there are multiple story modes along with offline Versus, Survival, Tournament, and Training modes, as well as online versus, endless battle, and tournaments, and literally over one thousand collectible items for you to unlock. The amount of content is daunting whether you enjoy Naruto or not, and while I'm not a fan, I'm impressed with Namco and CyberConnect2's dedication to their IP and to the droves of fans out there that can't get enough of this stuff.
Playing Generations begins with a fifteen or so minute install that eats up a couple of gigs of HDD space. While installing, numerous quick tips pop up, giving you an idea of what the default controls are and tidbits on many of the game's mechanics, including Chakra, Ninja Tools, Support Characters, and more. After installation, a very pretty menu pops up allowing you to choose from Story, Online, Free Battle, Shop, Collection, and Options. Options include changing the control scheme, difficulty, voices (from English to Japanese), and volumes. The Collection is where you can view a ton of stats about your time with the game, including Win/Lose ratios in multiple modes, total time played, and so forth. The Shop is where you can spend Ryo, the currency that you earn when you win battles, on literally over a thousand different things. Many of these items are locked until you progress so far into the Story mode, and many items are also unlocked simply by playing the game (i.e., you don't have to buy everything). Honestly, I'm half surprised (and somewhat relieved) that Namco didn't give players the option to pony up real money to unlock this stuff.
Amongst the unlockable items, you will discover 551 Titles, 601 Ninja Info Cards, 112 Ninja Tools, and a few dozen images and movies. The Titles are pretty cool and are split into two segments -- you can have a title like "The Hidden Village Shinobi" for example, where Title 1 is "The Hidden Village" and "Shinobi" is Title 2. I think this is a nice touch as it gives players more of a unique feel and persona in the online arena. The Ninja Tools are important for online battles -- these are numerous power-ups that you can assign to the d-pad. These power-ups give you shot-in-the-arm type boosts to defense and offense, for example, and can also cause temporary effects on your enemy such as slowing them down.
He's got this...
Free Battle is a great place to start if you are a newcomer to the Naruto games. From here you can setup detailed Training scenarios and explore a variety of characters to see which ones suit you. The Survival mode pits you against a continuous wave of CPU characters while you only have a single health bar to live on, versus mode is for playing against the CPU or local friend, and 4 to 8 player tournaments are on the menu as well.
For most players the longevity of this game will take place online or in the multiple story modes available. Certainly the amount of characters here will keep any fighter busy for hours on end. I can't think of another fighting game with even close to seventy-two characters, although it's worth mentioning again that most of these aren't available from the get-go. Regardless, there is more than enough content to get you going. Oh, there are thirty-eight stages too, which also trumps any fighting game I can think of.
But quantity is no match for quality. Naruto's fighting mechanics seem fairly polished and at the same time, pretty unique. The only other fighting game I have played that resembles this type of gameplay are the Dragonball games, also from Namco. Most fighting games keep the combatants close together, but in Naruto distance strategy is vital. CPU opponents are quick to fall back and create a massive gap between you and them, so learning how to close that gap with well-timed dashes or Chakra Dashes is important. Learning the controls and mechanics of Generations isn't too bad, as both of these are not only accessible, but customizable. Performing special attacks, i.e. anything that uses Chakra, is easy and dependable thanks to easy to use and remember controls.
Generations will either hook you early on and keep you playing for potentially hundreds of hours (depending on your dedication to learning the characters and unlocking everything) or it may only provide a short anime-infused burst of entertainment before fizzling out. There's certainly no lack of content in Generations, so what you get out of this game will likely boil down to your interest level of Shonen Jump's world.