Having a fair few instalments of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, it’s about time that the Naruto games tried something different. Bandai Namco obviously thought the same as they teamed up with developers Soleil to produce Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a sort of zany football hybrid given the name, but in fact it’s an online multiplayer team-based battler with ninja worldwide vying to be the greatest shinobi ever. Does Shinobi Striker get the most out of the online battling arena scene, or has it scored an own goal with a poor attempt at freshening up the Naruto offerings?
There’s potential for sure, but it’s hindered by a few too many drawbacks.
To get started in this Naruto universe, Shinobi Striker lets you create your very own character to use across everything it offers. You could just use an official character from the included roster if you wish, but where’s the fun in that? This is your time to shine. At first, customisation options are sparse, move sets limited and making your character’s appearance seem less generic is tricky, but over time you’ll unlock a ton of items to equip and a variety of moves to pull off, ensuring you stand out from the crowd. Currently, my character has a garish pink and blue robe, spiky red hair and dog ears, so it’s a real Frankenstein-esque creation. For the sheer amount of unlockables, it’s impressive, even if most are simply bits and bobs taken from the Naruto characters we know and love.
Arriving in the Hidden Leaf Village, you’ll realise that that’s the hub world for all the activities and whilst it’s bigger than the one found in Dragon Ball FighterZ, it does seem a tad restricting. Within the village is a shop ran by Tenten, an Inn where Sakura allows the opportunity to customise looks, equipment and manoeuvres, and the Ninjutsu Library to choose a master. There are also two other important areas and these are the main ways to approach the action; taking on the VR Training missions or heading into the online PvP modes.
Before delving into either, I’d like to break down the entire concept of Shinobi Striker and it heavily emphasises the teamplay aspect. You can choose to be an Attack, Ranged, Defense or Healer type fighter, with each being beneficial in certain instances. With four players on a team, the idea is to create a cohesive unit to reign supreme and four different roles available can be switched to prior to a match beginning and after a death. It could mean all team members end up as attackers when you’re trying to hold down a lead – a stupid idea – but that’s where a good team will change accordingly to suit what’s necessary.
The arsenal of Ninjutsu moves each class has is limited to just two and the rest are unlocked along the way, with levelling up your chosen master a sure-fire way to earn their moves. In fairness, the moves are great and really suit the classes, with the ranged fighters shooting fire balls, the defenders erecting walls and the healers keeping nearby allies alive. The special techniques look awesome too, but they seem a tad under-powered and I’ve seen them do less damage than a quick melee combo or kunai throw!
Anyway, back to the VR missions and they play the role of providing players with a PvE alternative to tackle solo or in co-op with up to three others. Some of the missions entail collecting items, defeating bosses and holding off waves of enemies in a horde-like manner. There’s always a bit of story to go with each one, provided by a host of familiar faces (Kakashi, Boruto, Gaara etc.), but you certainly shouldn’t jump in hoping for a great narrative, because you’ll be sorely disappointed. That being said, it’s an incredibly useful way to get to grips with the gameplay, the controls and, most importantly, the art of team work. In fact, the VR missions are the best part of Shinobi Striker.
You see, the 4v4 side of proceedings is absolutely hellish. The choices are Quick Match or the ranked type Ninja World League, so it depends if you fancy climbing up the rankings to earn rewards in the League or not. Regardless, a month down the line since release, and there are still way too many network errors hindering the process, which coupled with a dwindling player base makes it a tough ask to get a game. It’s possible though and when it works you’ll be randomly thrown into a Base, Barrier, Combat or Flag variation of a Battle. Tough luck if one of those isn’t your favourite, you’re going to have to grit your teeth and get on with it for fear of not getting another match for a while.
Base battles are similar to domination in Call of Duty, where teams aim to hold onto as many of the three bases as possible at once to earn more points; Combat battles work similar to team deathmatch, but the whole team has a set number of lives to lose; and the third type is Flag, which sees teams trying to capture each other’s flags. They’re pretty straightforward and uninspiring, unlike the Barrier battles that is. These are rather cool as you’re tasked with removing seals to be able to deal damage to a boss, with one team defending said boss and the other going for the kill.
Whatever the mode, the 3D environments you battle within are interesting due to the need to utilise the walls as much as the flat ground. The number of maps is disappointing seeing as there are only four, however those present are well-designed. It can be very disorientating traversing the maps though, making it too easy to lose track of your opponents and before you know it you’re surrounded by them. Getting a handle on the fighting in the third person perspective with everyone dashing about, leaping from place to place is tough and it’ll put many off the game too swiftly. Those who stick with it will garner some fun for sure, but you won’t be a top shinobi overnight.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else to do in Shinobi Striker. But that’s not the end of the problems, for I’ve suffered many a time from dropping frame-rates when everything gets chaotic and have often been sent to an early death as a result of lag delaying my attacks. It’s also frustrating that voice chat is switched off by default in the settings and a lot of people are seemingly unaware of this – a baffling move for an experience that relies on communication and teamwork.
In the visual department, Shinobi Striker boasts a vibrant colour palette and the Hidden Leaf Village hub is especially lovely to look at. There are no complaints about the character models either, with the optional playable characters like Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura and Deidara bearing great resemblance to their anime counterparts – they are even voiced well too. While on the topic of audio, the soundtrack does a really good job of setting the tempo for battle and fits well with the action.
Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker takes a risk by venturing into the online battling arena genre and it doesn’t pay off. Putting aside the technical issues for a minute, and to be fair there could be a good experience here, but even then the combat and movement is difficult to master. The VR missions are great to run through with some like-minded people though and the map layouts have clearly been well thought out. It’s a shame the 4v4 modes don’t offer enough new ideas, with map repetition a regular occurrence given the lack of them.
In short, there’s not enough to do in Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker, it’s quite hard to grasp and it’s becoming increasingly less popular each day. Buy it in a sale if you must, but do so at your own risk.