Like the four Ultimate Ninja Storm games before it, Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections is a comprehensive ode to the world and characters created by Masashi Kishimoto. Its immense cast of playable characters, each with exceptionally well-animated movesets, and a heaping handful of maps ripped straight from the anime with loving detail look better than ever before. But no level of source material accuracy can save this absolute mammoth of a game from hollow single-player content and a stale combat system that hasn’t meaningfully changed in fifteen years.
As far as Naruto fans go, I’m a bit of a weirdo. I was actually first introduced to the series ten years ago through Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, and I still vividly remember marveling at that entry’s shockingly big roster compared to most fighting games. That spurred me to get caught up with the show, and then I found myself further hooked thanks to the story mode’s faithful recreation of that fictional world. But while I stayed a Naruto fan, my friends and I eventually moved on to games with more depth, like Super Smash Bros. That’s because in order to support a roster that’s aptly described as a literal storm of ninjas, the combat has to stay pretty simple. This makes it approachable and easy to master, but there’s also no pot of gold to chase at the end of this learning curve like there is in better fighting games.
Naruto X Boruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections Screenshots
Combos flow like a watered-down version of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta; you can add variations to your moves, but most of the time you’ll be pressing the single attack button until your combo ends with a flashy finisher – unless you’re quick enough to cancel it into a special move or a dash before rinsing and repeating. Combo finishers usually end by launching your opponent across the map into the ground, putting them out of reach from a follow-up dash. This is where the real game begins: you’ll need to master and understand the ebb and flow of blocking, attacking, grabbing, and moving to get up close and personal so you can lock your opponent into yet another devastating flurry of blows.
Most of the characters in these games are (unsurprisingly) ninjas, which means they’re highly agile and each have three magic abilities to show off in the heat of battle. Just about anything goes here: Kiba teams up with his trusty pooch Akamaru to rush down and drill his opponents into a pulp, Kisame shoots shark-shaped water bombs from a safe distance, and Raikage Ay slams with thunderous force, creating a massive shockwave. But the drawback of that shared ninja DNA is that, aside from the stray puppet user like Chiyo or Sasori, most characters draw their movesets from the same small pool – albeit with different coats of paint. Most characters draw their movesets from the same small pool.
With 130 playable characters (though many of them are duplicates of main characters, with one or more extra variations of the same person taking up a lot of real estate), choosing a character based on their playstyle is less important than choosing a character you like from the show. That roster sounds impressive, but it actually feels barren as a fan, with only a few characters from Boruto, most of whom are just grown-up versions of other playable fighters. For something that’s billed as a definitive celebration of the whole series, Ninja Storm Connections falls disappointingly short.
Playstyles are generally so similar too that you could swap most characters’ voice lines and models with another and not see a huge difference. That said, using each character to their fullest potential takes a lot of savvy resource management and patient play, which is where Ninja Storm games shine. Using these special techniques consumes chakra, the Naruto series’ life-granting spiritual essence. On top of that, you’ll also need to keep an eye on your substitution gauge, which allows your character to escape any combo or attack at the push of a button. But you only have four substitutions at your disposal, and using multiple will cause your gauge to refill very slowly. This all adds some extra sauce to the otherwise one-note combat as players dash and jump all over its 3D arenas. Ninja Storm Connections seeks to further streamline the series’ combat for people who want a more forgiving fighting system by adding in the Simple control mode. By pressing a single button, your character will control itself, deciding when to dash, use special moves, and execute combos, leaving you to simply move and block. It’s great for people who love the show but aren’t into fighting games, but not something that will ever match up to an experienced player. It’s also highly customizable, allowing you to select what’s automated and what isn’t.
Playing online has been pretty smooth thus far – though results will vary depending on your own and your opponent’s internet connection strengths and speeds since Ninja Storm Connections disappointingly doesn’t use rollback netcode like a majority of other contemporary fighting games do, instead opting for a peer-to-peer connection. In most cases, this makes for a less reliable option that often results in a worse online experience. Netcode aside, the multiplayer options offer a solid range of online features including multiple opponent rating systems, with fail-safes for players who disconnect during a match or engage in toxic behavior. For a fighting game with such broad appeal, that’s a fantastic approach to curbing the poor behavior that permeates a lot of the casual arena fighting genre.Connections disappointingly doesn’t use rollback netcode online.
Its single-player story options, on the other hand, are something of a letdown. The History Mode lets you poorly relive the story of Naruto and friends from the beginning of the original series, which follows him as a kid through the end of Naruto Shippuden three years later. Special Story Mode, on the other hand, is a predictable and rarely exciting original story written by series creator Masashi Kishimoto set in the time of Naruto’s son, Boruto, whose own manga series is still ongoing.
I love the world and story of Naruto. Its complex politics, incredibly fleshed-out history, well-defined characters with rich backgrounds, and interweaving relationships are the foundation of why this series has remained so popular over the years. Unfortunately, Ninja Storm Connections’ approach to that story does it no favors. Parsed out like a half-baked flashback, History Mode truncates the events of Naruto and Shippuden in slapdash fashion. Yes, these games are designed with the fans in mind and most of the people playing through its roughly seven-hour recap will probably already know these events like the back of their hand, but that doesn’t excuse shoddy storytelling.
Instead of cutscenes, subtitled stills from the anime pop up in-between the occasional fight, with sound effects like clashing kunai and some sporadic screen-shaking as the only attempts to add flavor. I’m sure it’s challenging to condense entire arcs spanning dozens of episodes into roughly 40-minute-long chapters, but I’m equally sure it could’ve been done in a more interesting way than this. These “movies,” as the game refers to them, are narrated by the Naruto world’s god-like figure, The Sage of Six Paths. This detached perspective, delivered in English via voice actor Michael McConnohie’s hypnotic rasp, is great in a vacuum, but boring in the broader context of a series that involves so many distinct characters and performances by talented voice actors. And that’s if a given movie is fortunate enough to have any voiceover whatsoever.
You’ll rarely hear from the actual characters involved in these moments, which play out more like YouTube lore videos than interesting scenes. Instead, whenever a memorable quote comes up, our disembodied narrator…