I don't suppose I'll do to much harm to my status as a nerd if I admit that I don't know much about Manga and Anime. Sure, I've read the canon, Akira, Lone Wolf and Cub & Gunm, but when it comes to Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, I'm a blank slate. No preconceived ideas or expectations.
As an aside, if I have to type the words Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations every time I refer to the game I'll spend longer writing the review than I did playing the game, so from here on I'll call it NSUNSG, which is not only shorter but has the added bonus of sounding like something you'd order in a good Thai restaurant.
Speaking of things from the Far East, this game is very, very Japanese. It never uses one word where it can use six. Never features one character when it can feature three, and never makes do with a button push when it can ask you to pull off a two-button, four push combo. Even the control layout screen is bewildering, with brightly coloured text and streamers leaping off in all directions, explaining how to run, attack, jump and er...substitute your Chakra. The three screens worth of playing instructions are so densely packed and brightly coloured, they look like a nighttime shot of Akihabara.
Now, there's a small subsection of gamers so devoted to all things Japanese that they've already decided to buy NSUNSG based on that last paragraph, but for the rest of us there are important questions to be answered: what's it about? How does it play? How does it look?
Sadly, when it comes to "What's it about?" we start to struggle almost instantly. There are three ninjas led by an irritatingly voiced blonde kid. And they're looking for their missing friend. And someone has been murdered. And their friend doesn't actually seem very friendly. And there's a brilliantly named character called "Pervy Sage", and they're in a desert but seem to want to be in a garden and...Christ, I don't know, it's Japanese, just be thankful no one is f*cking an Octopus.
Not only is the story a little confusing, the gameplay is too, albeit in a less exasperating way. In essence, NSUNSG is a 3D team beat-em-up, with your gang of ninjas following your commands and assisting you as you batter the villains you come across. The actual combat is a surprising mix, parts of it being unexpectedly deep, others being strangely shallow. You can't block once you're being pummelled, and your ranged attacks are feeble, but you can 'zap' yourself around the arena. This means that closing the gap on your opponent can be a surprisingly tactical job, whereas actually attacking them often becomes a simpler matter of button-bashing.
Of course, once you start bashing that button, you'll notice that some depth starts to return-characters move at preposterous speed, and the avalanches of kicks and punches they unleash are slowly replaced by the ability to throw giant lobsters at your enemy, or have them eaten by giant disembodied heads, or clone yourself and throw your clones at the baddies. Your attacks cane be modified by using your beast modifier, and your beast modifier can be modified by cards that you win in combat. If you're still following any of this, you've got a better grasp of the game than we managed, and we've played it.
Of course, there's great joy to be had in bewilderment, in knowing that eventually tease a thread of sanity from the madness and follow it to a sensible conclusion. Inch by inch, you'll find yourself turning the gibberish into a set of workable combat tactics.
Better still, the look of the game complements the action. The cel-shaded colours and cartoonish animation combine with the frantic action to make gameplay feel a lot like taking control of every cartoon you thought was awesome when you were a six year old.
When discussing what is so obviously a niche game, we'd be irresponsible not to trot out the caveat: If you like this sort of thing, then you'll like this sort of thing. To be honest, it's not really our cup of tea, but the frenetic action does have a certain appeal, and the presence of over 70 characters and online play means it will be a long time till you see everything the game has to offer. For those reasons, we're giving it a cautious and slightly confused thumbs up.