Review: Shinobi Striker – Brawling, Refining, Grinding, Repeat

Whether or not you’ve been into anime in the last 15 years chances are you know a thing or two about Naruto, which has recently broken into making a second generation of heroes within the same universe. Fittingly enough, this transition between Boruto and Boruto’s dad has been titled ‘Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers.’ The games of this series has come quite far, starting with some generic platformers, to fighting game iterations, to full blown RPGs and MMOs and now we have what some would call a MOBA (Multiplayer Battle Online Arena).

No, you won’t necessarily be retracing the past adventures of our bright colored ninjas, or following any sort of story for that matter, generally the game opens up and somebody gives you a tour and suddenly drops the question ‘Hey are you joining the worldwide ninja tournament?’ Yes, ninjas going out in the open to compete about how great they are as ninjas and show it off to the world sounds absurd, and that’s your setting. Now go!

 

Production (4 / 5)

This is the first time I’ve seen Kishimoto’s universe rendered the way Shinobi Striker has, attempting to reproduce a colored manga look while running it on 3D is quite a feat indeed. Though, I would say the textures would be more of an acquired taste, or it really just won’t click with you. Either way, the game stably runs with 60 FPS which makes all the animations look great.

I’d have to say that whoever created these animations took notes from Guilty Gear to reproduce the attack deformations normally only possible with 2D art, in general I find the result impressive. Audio cues and sound effects also match the contextual action well, and generally follow the universe’s lore. Music in the other hand, while I find matches the theme well, is pretty underwhelming in general. But hey, maybe it’s because everything is just multiplayer content? Maybe there’s no real opportunity to build something memorable for a track.

My biggest complaint about the graphic side would be how boring the central hub is, they’ve demonstrated that they can make some interesting maps and recreate some epic locations, so why not make that available for exploration? If you intended not to make too much out of that then why not make shortcut menus so I don’t have to travel and go through certain amounts of loading time to do some simple tasks? It’s just annoying.

 

Mechanics (4 / 5)

This is probably the first Naruto title that I’ve held where I would readily say that the mechanics is the real star of the show. This title being focused on creating an interesting MOBA experience, created 4 classes for you to switch between that generally describe how most characters in its universe approach a battle. These roles simply named as attack, ranged, defense and healer. There’s a bit of a rock-paper-scissors meta between these classes, but there’s also some depth to how you actually play within a match that can make even bad situations turn to your favor. Each class has their own set of skills and items you can choose between to customize as well, making it possible for you to truly create your own way of being a ninja.

Actual combat gives focus to moving around and attacking, defensive options are limited but powerful enough to be useful. Running along walls can be pretty disorienting at first but it’s pretty fun once you get the hang of it. You also have access to ninja tools which are usually throwing weapons but can also be utility items. Every load out allows you to equip 2 skills or spells which you can learn by grinding under a specific master. For example, you can learn various ranged attack spells while being under Sasuke’s tutelage or support abilities if you pick to learn under Sakura. You also eventually learn new ultimates (aka hidden arts) if you grind under one teacher long enough.

Yes, I said grinding, there’s a lot of it in this game, you can be grinding for new gear, skills, levels, or whatever the next reward you are closest to. Whether or not you like grinding is probably going to be more of personal taste but it usually isn’t as painful when you’re doing it in a multiplayer game. I just have some qualms about having so many options kept behind a grind that I may not find meaningful enjoyment doing. The fact that the mechanics are pretty well thought-out makes the grinding that much less painful as it’s actually fun to play, balance may leave more wanting, but that’s going to be revealed only through time.

 

Content (3.5 / 5)

‘Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers’ gives you a set of quests which you can find and unlock in various ways but generally gives you the same missions with maybe a different scenario or boss to fight. There doesn’t appear to be any scaling, as the amount of enemies or their stats remain the same despite being on solo or online mode.

On the flip side, I actually like what they offer for the multiplayer versus mode, especially for the quick play offerings. It’s similar to Overwatch, letting you play several types of maps with different objectives. While it has the usual death match, base capture and capture the flag, my personal favorite would be the hybrid base capture and boss-raid map. Having an attacking and defending team makes you adapt completely different tactics, it’s also the most ‘MOBA-esque’ experience in the game.

Much of the content is either centered around a multiplayer experience and grinding for levels to gain access to even more content, study under a certain master which is basically picking one and not much else, and well, pulling out random items from scrolls, where you’ll hope it’s at least money or some form of cosmetics as other equipment can easily be bought at the in-game shop. This was probably a loot box feature which they decided to remove any micro-transactions from given the controversy it brewed up with other games from before.

Speaking of customizations, there’s a lot of them but quite limited, you see, there doesn’t appear to be any cosmetics that deviate from the default characters of Naruto. It’s a bit disappointing, but maybe this will change when DLC options come in, it’s also a bit annoying that you can only get most of this through the scrolls, including color variants. So if fashion expression is something you like to do in this game, it’s possible, but limited and grindy.

 

Features (2 / 5)

During the beta there was a loadout system that was available for you to use while respawning, I kinda wish it was still here but I couldn’t find it Shinobi Striker’s official release. It’s a bit disappointing considering that you’ll only have 1 loadout per class now, and having to edit that means having to walk all the way to another facility in the game to have that little change done. So if you say, have a setup for PVP and a separate one for co-op, You’ll have to remember what setup you’re using because there’s no quick way to switch between them. In fact, why is there a central hub world in the first place when in reality it’s basically the main menu? I mean, it would’ve been fine if there was a shortcut menu available but that’s not the case. A bunch of quality of life improvements would make this game a lot easier to play.

It’s also at this point where I have to painfully say that the netcode wasn’t working for me, I researched online if this was a case only for me and I tried playing in different locations and use different ISPs, I can’t seem to get the latency that makes the game feel responsive. Though as of this writing there has been word that they’ve released a new patch that fixes out the kinks in their netcode, and some users say it has improved. So maybe it won’t be too bad from this point on.

 

Conclusion

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers is a visually pleasing game, they’ve considered the to pay attention to detail on how characters animate and even make use of some well-known scenes from the source material to give better context to the casual missions you’re about to take.

I’d have to say a lot of thought and planning went into its mechanics, being able to play out a battle that you might see in an action-packed episode of Naruto while being able to create a variety of individual strategies is a pretty impressive feat in my book. It may have issues with balance, which only time will tell, but in general it’s highly engaging and that’s already a success in itself.

However the game trips up several times on creating side content which is generally paid for by a lot of grinding, and a lack of features that would allow me to stay immersed in game play rather than it being interrupted by necessary trips to other, less engaging parts of the game to progress my character properly. Heck, I wish it had a locking or radar system that I could actually rely on.

Overall, I think the game has its moments, but unless you’re really in it for the PVP, you’re not going to get a lot of variance in what those moments would be. Perhaps if you’re up for plenty of grinding and customization options don’t really bother you, it’s something you can really enjoy. Otherwise, it may grow old on you quite quickly. I have little doubt that there’ll be sequel and I sincerely hope they make improvements to the game’s side-features to make this game a little more seamless.

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker could be grinded to something sharper with a 3.4 / 5.

 

Available on PS4, X1 and PC.

 

Thank you to Bandai Namco Entertainment Asia for the review copy!

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