Naruto and Nintendo have long been cozy with each other. The earliest Naruto games appeared some 15 years ago on the GameCube and Gameboy Advance, but the Ultimate Ninja series of Naruto games skipped Nintendo’s consoles in favour of other platforms, but all that has changed with the release of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy for Switch.
Trilogy is a collection of the first three games in the UNS series. On Switch, the collection is a port of a port. Each of the included games originally released for PS3 and Xbox 360, then were bundled as a trilogy and sold on PS4 and Xbox One last Summer. That port has now been ported to Switch. Have we said the word port too many times?
With the history out of the way, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the resolution. Early news out of Japan pegged Naruto’s resolution at 540p in handheld mode across all three games. We can confirm this is true, however, we also opine that this isn’t as bad as the nightmarish images such a low number may conjure in one’s mind. The fact of the matter is, Trilogy looks and plays fantastically on Switch, both docked and in handheld mode.
Visually, Trilogy tries to replicate the feel of the anime on which it’s based, meaning it’s cel-shaded, much like many licensed titles based on similar series. That choice of visual style lends itself well to the Switch, as the graphics aren’t as demanding as one might expect from a game that released on competing consoles less than a year ago. The Switch port looks nearly identical (in docked mode) to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions, an impressive feat.
Each of the three games maintains a rock-steady 30 frames-per-second throughout gameplay, with some minor dips on rare occasions during cutscenes. Speaking of gameplay, mechanically all three games are similar, albeit with minor tweaks between them. All three titles are 3D fighters in which you can play one-on-one or create a team of as many as three ninja to battle it out against your rivals. All of the Naruto series’ signature tricks are there, from sharingans and rasengans to tailed beasts and summoning jutsus.
More impressive yet is the fact that the framerate remains solid during the game's flashy ultimate jutsus (super moves, essentially), which are massive in scale. In one, Naruto creates hundreds of clones of himself, each a fully realised 3D model and slams his opponent to the ground. In another, Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura each summon a giant monster and attack their opponent, resulting in a massive explosion. Switch handles all of these effects without so much as a hiccup.
Behind the sweet ninja moves is a deceptively deep fighting system. Like most fighting games, UNS is built on a system of creating combos and making effective use of the tools in your arsenal to take out your foes. The controls are simple to master, with one button dedicated to attacking, one for dodging, one for projectiles such as shuriken and one used to infuse any of the previous three with chakra, giving those attacks a temporary boost. Rather than the traditional super meter found in most fighters, Naruto takes a page from a number of Dragon Ball fighting games and includes a meter you can choose to fill at any time by holding down a button. Every character has a normal and an ultimate jutsu they can use, all of which are executed the same way. This is a great decision, because it means there’s no wall-like learning curve with regard to how to actually do each character’s moves, leaving the focus on strategy.
The key to winning in any of the three games included in this package is to make use of every tool at your disposal. You can carry up to three items into battle with you ranging from throwable weapons and traps, to healing and recovery items. While the items themselves aren’t overpowered, they can make the difference between a victory and a loss in a close match. Picking the right team is also key, as depending on which game you’re playing, you can unlock new opportunities and tactical choices. Similarly to how games such as the Marvel vs. Capcom series functions, you can tag in your teammates for a quick assist before they jump back out. Unlike MvC, however, you can’t permanently switch between your teammates. The character you choose as your main is the one you’ll be using throughout your match.
The three games each cover a different period of time in the Naruto canon, from the beginnings of the stories, to painfully close to the series’ penultimate moments. Each game’s story mode can range from 10 to 15 hours, depending on how many sidequests you choose to complete. The most eager of fans may even be able to squeeze 20 hours out of a single story if they aim for 100% completion. As you follow through the story, the roster, starting with 25 characters in the original balloons to a whopping 80 characters in the third installment. Nearly every player, central or tangential, to the series is represented across these three titles, including some of the crazier, kaiju-sized transformation Naruto and friends obtain in the anime.
The news, however, wasn’t all good. Combat is fun, fast-paced and engaging, but it all falls apart when you try to go online. Across all three games, Trilogy’s online play is incredibly disappointing. Matches are nearly always laggy, constantly stuttering and outright pausing. We tried everything we could think of to reduce the amount of lag we experienced, including directly wiring our Switch to a business-grade internet connection with no success. With friend both domestic and foreign, we couldn’t get a single match worth playing, which is a shame as the games would enjoy much more replay value if the netcode weren’t so poor.
Naruto's first outing on Nintendo Switch is a wonderful first step for the orange ninja. While we would have loved to have seen the fourth title included to cover the entirety of in a single game, it's hard for us to thumb our noses at three complete games in one package for about 40 bucks. For a Naruto fan, this is a no-brainer. If you like fighting games, this also might be for you, but beware if you mainly play online as you're going to be frustrated. If local multiplayer or single-player are more your speed, however, there's a ton of content spread across three excellent games, each of which are, despite their seemingly low resolution, a great showcase of Switch's technical prowess. The thoughtful inclusion of both Japanese and English voice tracks is great for fans, too. If you're looking for a fighting game to round out your Switch library, Trilogy is well worth a look.