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[Review] Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections

Posted on November 25, 2023 by in Reviews, Switch

Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections review

System: Switch
Release date: November 17, 2023
Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Bandai Namco

Naruto is a series that needs no introduction at this point; if you’ve ever looked into anime before (and even if you haven’t) then you’ll almost certainly have encountered the rambunctious, optimistic, orange-clad ninja-in-training with the grandiose dream of becoming the Hokage of his village. With his story concluded, his son Boruto is now currently starring in his own manga and anime series, and anyone familiar with CyberConnect’s Ultimate Ninja Storm series knew it was only a matter of time before we had a game starring the two of them, with the previous game’s expansion, Road to Boruto, offering a glimpse of that future. Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections might not be the game that long-time fans were hoping for, and it’s definitely not the celebratory title that the franchise deserves, but it is nonetheless a solid entry in the long-running franchise and a worthwhile pickup if you’re craving some more Naruto-themed arena-fighter action, provided your expectations don’t go beyond that.

Connections features the same arena-fighter gameplay as its predecessors: you’ll choose a character supported by up to two others, and battle it out against an opponent in a 3D arena, unleashing combo attacks, Jutsu, and items to beat down your foes’ multiple health bars and emerge victorious. The emphasis is more on spectacle rather than skill, and the constantly shifting, dynamic camera angles can be a little jarring at first, making it difficult to keep track of your character and your opponent as you dash across the battlefield. Once you become adjusted to the experience it all feels quite natural however, and feels particularly refined at this point given all the changes and improvements that have been made across the games’ predecessors.

Several new small changes have been made in Connections on top of these, and this makes it a much more fluid experience overall. What will probably stand out most to returning players is the inclusion of a second Jutsu for characters and chakra recovers automatically, making it easier to execute special moves more frequently. The game also features a Simple Control Mode, which makes it an excellent starting point for newcomers who haven’t played any of the previous instalments. The roster has also seen an expansion, boasting a staggering number of characters for players to experiment with, and whilst some feel better to control than others, it is extremely comprehensive and should satisfy fans of the series.

Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections review

Although the combat system here isn’t particularly deep when put up against its peers, it’s easy to pick up and play from the get-go with an extensive set of tutorials to ease you into things, and it has a high skill ceiling if you intend to take the experience online. None of the single-player content is particularly difficult, which is not necessarily a bad thing, although none of it will prepare you for online play and some additional single-player challenges wouldn’t have gone amiss to introduce players to more advanced mechanics, and provide more engaging single-player content for returning players. Connections focuses more on scores in this area, awarding ranks for performance in its stages and encouraging players to focus on attaining higher scores, tying cosmetic rewards and in-game currency to achieving better results.

Connections has multiple different gameplay modes with the bulk of the single-player content being split between History and Special Story. As you might expect, History recaps the events of the Naruto and Naruto Shippuden anime series, and is split into eight chapters of reasonable length. Considering the amount of content it depicts, History mode does a better job than I was expecting at covering the main plot points, although the way that it does this is largely unengaging. Most of it is told through brief text segments with anime stills of varying quality (although to be fair here the anime is getting on in years, so poor image quality in places is to be expected) and although some of these are narrated to make them a little more interesting to sit through, most of them are not. Descriptions of events are brief and give very little insight or context to events, focusing instead on telling you what is going on in the simplest possible terms. It serves as an adequate refresher for those already familiar with the series, but if this is your first time experiencing Naruto, there isn’t enough detail here to get a grasp of things.

The battles are the highlight of History mode, letting you relive some of the anime’s most iconic moments for yourself. The game’s combat makes these brief moments exciting and very satisfying, and the added QTEs in some of the battles lend those moments a more suitable dramatic flair, but for fans of the series who have played past Ninja Storm games there is absolutely nothing new here as these have all been lifted from previous games. This makes History mode feel more like an abridged compilation of past Ninja Storm games than its own unique thing, which is a bit disappointing, and there are some glaring omissions that make this more of a selective highlight reel. The ratio of battles to cutscenes is heavily skewed in favor of the latter, meaning you’ll be spending more time watching than playing.

Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections review

With this in mind, History mode is clearly not intended to be a substitute for experiencing the anime or manga, and as each chapter is available from the beginning it isn’t presented this way, despite each chapter having a linear structure where you’ll need to clear the previous stage before you can advance to the next. However, certain Encyclopedia entries will only unlock when you complete the corresponding History mode stage, which feels like a strange contradiction to History mode’s presentation, especially when the vast majority of the Encyclopedia entries are available from the beginning of the game.

The Encyclopedia is far more extensive, containing just about all the information (and then some) that you could ask for about the various characters, moves, and concepts. It serves as an excellent way to refresh your memory if you’ve forgotten points of interest, and despite having watched Naruto recently I learned a few things going over some of the entries too. If you’re completely unfamiliar with Naruto, the combination of History mode and the Encyclopedia will give you more than enough information to familiarize yourself in the world and its characters, although I wouldn’t personally recommend experiencing the franchise this way for a first time as there is an extremely large amount of information here to digest, and even together they don’t provide a complete picture of the series.

Of more interest is Special Story mode, which tells an original story focusing on Boruto as he explores the virtual world of Ninja Heroes, a game that is populated by characters from the Naruto series roleplaying as other characters, which is as bizarre and occasionally confusing as it sounds. Alongside Boruto’s escapades within Ninja Heroes with a new character, Nanashi, a conspiracy is unfolding in the Hidden Leaf in the real world, leading to far greater stakes as the story progresses.

Although it isn’t the most original setting and has mild pacing issues at times (which is probably something fans of the series have long since grown accustomed to) the narrative here is very character-focused, and I enjoyed watching the interaction between Boruto and other members of the cast, and the strangely meta nature of the Ninja Heroes setting. It’s presented as a standalone tale that isn’t reliant on familiarity with the Boruto manga or anime, making it approachable for newcomers to that part of the franchise. There is also a lot of fanservice here that fans of the series will no doubt appreciate.

Unfortunately, the Special Story doesn’t feature the free roaming gameplay that has been in past Ninja Storm titles, being composed only of fights and cutscenes. This feels like a missed opportunity given that Ninja Heroes could have allowed for various character interactions and fights not otherwise possible in an organic way, and is particularly disappointing given that this is the bulk of the new content that the game has to offer. What is present here is enjoyable, but a more interactive approach would have elevated it to stand alongside its predecessors and made the package feel like a more complete experience. As it is, the Special Story often feels like a particularly long filler episode of the anime with occasional input from the player in battles, despite the quality of the writing.

Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections review

The game also has an extensive Free Mode, allowing you to either practice more advanced techniques at your leisure, participate in various different styles of tournaments, and try out some of the limitless combinations of characters from the game’s gigantic roster. There are also a huge number of unlockable cosmetics and costume variants (although these are unfortunately mostly recolors) to unlock with the in-game currency, Ryo, and proficiency levels for each character that will increase the more you use them, in a distinctly RPG-like style. The game also has the customary online mode, adding hours to its longevity if you have an interest in PvP.

Connections has had only a slight visual upgrade from its predecessors, which might make it feel dated to longtime fans of the series but works in its favor for its performance on Switch, as it runs smoothly and consistently on the hardware, and the cel-shaded aesthetic remains as good a rendition of the anime as it was when it was piloted by the first game in the series. Environments are quite bland, but as the main focus of your attention will be on the characters and their attacks, this is a minor complaint. Loading times are also noticeably short on Switch, and you won’t spend much time waiting between battles and story sequences. The game features full English and Japanese voice acting so whatever your preference here this game has you covered.

The Verdict

Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections is a solid title that maintains the high quality of gameplay that the Ninja Storm series is known for, and adds some much-needed improvements to the mechanics that makes it much more fun to play. But if you wanted anything more than just “more Ninja Storm” in terms of content, you may want to think twice before picking this up. Although the roster is gigantic, between the repurposed content from previous titles in History mode and lack of more interactive gameplay in the Special Story, it gives the distinct impression of a lot of corners being cut. What is here is going to be good enough to justify a purchase for most fans, and it’s an acceptable stopgap until the next full title in the series is inevitably released, but it could have been so much more if a little more thought had been put into its content and presentation.

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