First off, if you haven't seen my official review, head over to GeekNifty to check it out, the link is HERE.
I have a lot to say about this title. That's usually not a good thing. See, I love Naruto games. There were a handful of standout titles on the PS2 and later that were really good. They let you explore the Leaf Village and engage in brand new stories. But so many just repeat the same fights from the anime in a set order. And let's not even talk about the Xbox 360 one that made you made you waggle the control sticks to form hand signs.
Now right out of the box (or digital download menu,) you need to know that this is an online game. But I've played a few online games in my time, and the best has something in common: there's still a single player experience. This is not the case for Shinobi Striker. If you're not playing online, you're cut off from at least half the game. There is no dedicated single player experience. The game even forces you to engage in menus and screens that are designed for multiplayer settings. Cutscenes? Can't skip. Pause menu? Doesn't stop battle. Hub world? Barren and empty. But at least I can make ninja poses for the three NPCs around me to see.
Let me try to focus on what I like. The combat is good. It's fun! You pick your role based on Attack, Defense, Ranged, or Healing type, then further customize your moves with pre-determined weapons and powers that fit in those categories. That's not the fun part. The fun part is actually fighting. The AI is smart, even as your companion, which can be a rare thing sometimes. Moving around the world is easy and intuitive, letting you fight on the ground, in the air, and on walls. I feel like I'm in a Naruto fight when play and that's a good thing! Your moves are a bit limited, but if you pick the proper "mentor," you can make a decent two-man team.
But that's not what the game's about. The game is about an online tournament; that's your goal and the core of the action. You team up with three other players, fill out your roles, and fight in capture-the-flag, capture-the-base, and straight up fights. Earn rewards from winning and improve your character. Rinse and repeat. If you're not online, you're restricted to the VR Arena. Missions given by NPCs are played out here and, yes, they're all single battles from the Naruto anime. Again, beating these lets you get better equipment so you can... uh... beat more missions?
And this is the problem. There's nothing to really do in this game. No overarching story, no meaningful progression to your character, and you don't even feel like you're part of the world. For one, you're restricted to the a single plaza inside a massive Leaf Village (tiny fences keep your ninja from exploring the metropolis). The missions you play in the VR Arena aren't real, so they don't affect any story. And there really isn't any story, to be honest. There's a tournament in town. Do your best. There's the story. If there's more, it's definitely not available to you offline.
With such a great fighting system, the game could've given you AI companions to participate in an offline tournament. Or perhaps actually put out a campaign for you to complete. As it stands, the game just feels like nothing by side quests, as though the entirety of Shinobi Strikers was just a side mode to a larger, more complete game.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.