If I’m being honest, I’m not all that sure what a “chakra” is. Google tells me it’s about spiritual power in the human body, but that doesn’t help explain to me what a “Chakra Jump” is in Naruto. Or Boruto. Whichever series this is now. But that’s not really the point - more to the point is that Bandai Namco have brought to my attention that shuriken stars are a bit like fidget spinners, which is entirely transformative to the way I see the ninja-Goku and his jumpsuit wearing pals.
Traditionally, Naruto games have been arena fighters, like the flashy and beautifully animated Ninja Storm series, and developer Soleil haven’t strayed too far from this tradition, but Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker can be so much more than just the typical anime brawler.
In the demo I played Bandai Namco had put together an 8-man LAN setup, with two teams of four players facing off against one another in a game of Capture the Flag - I didn’t know that this was originally a ninja tradition, but this was an evening of firsts. You and your ninja friends can Chakra Jump - which I discovered is actually just a really big jump - and even run up walls, allowing players to find their own paths through levels.
Honestly, this alternate approach to a Naruto game was refreshing. As much praise as I can give the Ninja Storm series, the repetitive battles bored me, but here, fresh game modes using the ninja abilities of your team really help to reinvigorate the game for me.
Mind you, there are, of course, ninja fights - it’s just that this time it doesn’t feel very… tactile. Fighting feels floatier than ever before; no thuds on impact, no real solid impact animations, it just feels very disconnected with the buttons you’re pressing. In fact, I had no real idea of how much damage I was doing with my hits, if any, my only indication that I was making contact was a flailing animation from my opponent.
But of course, there’s plenty of time for Naruto to Boruto to polish up, and ultimately, the promise of a brand new approach for the ninja-action series is very promising. Turning the usually one-on-one fighter into a sprawling multiplayer arena game might be a good move, especially if combat ends up feeling even half as sharp as it does in the Ninja Storm games.
Expectations are high and the pressure is on Soleil - Naruto fans should watch for this one, it just might be great. The game will launch on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, though there's no solid release date yet.