For the uninitiated, Naruto is a long running manga series published in the weekly Shounen Jump periodical straight out of the Land of the Rising Sun. Naruto has been steadily published since 1997, and has since become a global phenomenon standing with the greats like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Hunter x Hunter, et al. Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker is the newest entry in Naruto's long history of video games. Joining a roster of approximately 60 other entries, Shinobi Striker brings much to the table, but does it hang with the rest? We reckon Shinobi Striker solidifies itself in the Naruto series as something quite unique, and something that'll surely be an influence on future titles.
Shinobi Striker takes place chronologically between the events of Naruto Shippuden and Boruto: the Next Generation, and is an open arena fighting game with a strong emphasis on traversal. The game allows you to either create your own avatar or play as a 'master character', returning greats from the series that’s been going for about two decades. You also get to choose your role through many customisation options, and take to the battlefield in either offline or online four-on-four matches to see how you really stack up.
Combat in Shinobi Striker is a wild ride. As your very own ninja you have the ability to run on walls and water, you can jump from wall to wall with wire kunai, and use the environment as a tool in itself. This makes the combat so wild and over the top that it truly feels like a Naruto dream come true. You need to be deliberate, thoughtful, and quick as can be.
Dodging and blocking are paramount, as excess button mashing can lead to combos that leave you wide open to enemy attack. However, the game is seemingly a first of its kind, as it has such a vast array of roles, skills, tools, and weapons, allowing you to tailor your experience almost however you like. You can choose from four key roles: Attack, Range, Defence, and Heal. These feel dramatically different, as they all have different sets of weapons, skills, and ultimate abilities that they can harness. Unfortunately, there are some dumb (if a little fun) glitches that come into play, like clipping into ledges and the like, but hopefully these are fixed with upcoming patches.
The game is considered online at all times, although for solo play there still remains the ability to play 'VR missions'. These are what the game considers its 'story mode' despite the fact it's bereft of any consistent story. However, you can at least get a ton of time out of these missions without ever touching the online modes. The offline modes kept us busy for a number of hours just trying to level up our avatar, unlock new VR Masters (a chosen character from the series that imparts new skills, costumes, and more), and collect new scrolls (this game’s take on loot boxes).
On paper this seems very cut and dry, an everyday affair, but in practice, some potential issues become apparent. The missions have a few key aspects that can be a real drag at times. Cutscenes and dialogue have no option to skip, which can be a massive slog when trying to farm up ryo (in-game currency), and scrolls for new gear. Additionally, quests are delivered one by one, only by talking to non-playable characters scattered all across the relatively small hub area in the Village Hidden in the Leaves. One big issue we ran into was that occasionally -- okay, not occasionally, pretty frequently -- we had a bug where our next quest giver wouldn't spawn immediately, and we would have to leave the game and reload in in order to progress.
Despite the niggling issues, what sets Shinobi Striker apart from other Naruto games is the sheer amount of customisation that it offers. They're very much for fans of the series, and we spent hours and hours decking out our shinobi to look as edgy as possible. Customisation really seems to be the driving force of the game -- it got to a point where we couldn't put down the controller because the compulsion to get more loot was far too strong.
Of course, if you really want to put your fully customised ninja to the test, you can always go up against other players, hitting the game's online matches to see where you stand. Despite some matchmaking quirks that would regularly put our team of level 20-somethings up against a squadron of level 60 players, it's solid fun.
A fast and frenetic adventure, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker is greater than the sum of its parts. Despite some voice work that feels rather flat and a handful of other minor issues, the game feels genuine in its attempt to recreate the action of Naruto, and forging your own custom character's legacy is bound to be enough to entice fans.