Anime games can be pretty hit and miss, more often than not feeling like lazy cash-ins that are designed purely to tide over the fans who are clamouring for enjoyable experiences in these worlds. Often these are based on fairly simple systems that never really delve deep enough to live up to the potential of the source material. It is incredibly refreshing to see one which tries something new, and Naruto To Boruto: Shinobi Striker is definitely something new.
Rather than just going the simple route of being a brawler that wraps the action up with the story beats that have been used a thousand times, we have a multiplayer focused game that requires genuine teamwork and rewards the grind.
The main attraction here is the multiplayer, though there is a large set of single player and cooperative missions to undertake if you get bored of pummelling other ninjas. You have a few different game modes to partake in, from objective game modes like capture the zones to the standard deathmatch. Each match has two teams of four battling for supremacy and ultimately victory, though it isn’t always as simple as just knocking out the opposing team.
The thing that really helps each match feel unique is the customisation of your character. While the cosmetics of your shinobi are completely up to you, the way they play genuinely changes when you equip different weapons and jutsu, your special techniques. The weapon you wield dictates the pacing and style of your basic attacks, which aren’t always a huge deal but some of the weapons change how your attacks function greatly and are worth playing around with. The jutsu generally recharge pretty quickly and can have a huge impact on each match. You get to unlock these for your character by either training under a master or by earning them as rewards for levelling up or victory.
Where it really gets interesting through is in the class system. Rather than being a capitalistic construct designed to keep the rich getting richer and the poor scrambling around just to be able to survive, the class system in Shinobi Striker helps to define what kind of role you will play in each bout. The attack class is designed for high damage output and manoeuvrability but is fairly squishy, the defence class is good at zone control but is pretty slow, healers do more or less what you expect but can also paralyse opponents, and the ranged class is great at annoying you from a distant with a barrage of fire and hate. Every weapon and skill is split into one of these classes and each one actually feels unique as a result. Best of all, you aren’t locked into any one class and can switch between them every time you die in order to best serve your team.
The ability to play roles other than pure damage means that even if you aren’t confident in your ability to throw down you can still enjoy playing this game. Playing as a healing class is an essential part of the game when against a team of hyper-aggressive shinobi; being able to stop the opposing group in their tracks while also restoring your friend’s health is a much neglected, but incredibly powerful move. It helps to create an online environment that caters to more than just those who are happy to grind out continuously. Additionally, you can actually choose to play as characters from the anime to feel what some of the end game creations can feel like, which is great for introducing players to the game.
The single player is surprisingly enjoyable as well, it almost feels like a 3D version of a classic side-scrolling brawler. Most of the missions involve beating up an army of oncoming henchman or monsters, but it feels good to completely overpower them and is a chance to practice with new weapons or classes. Occasionally you even get to fight in over-the-top boss battles with giant frogs or named characters, all of which are a nice change of pace. This is where you get to see some of the classic big battles from the Naruto era.
The stages all feel different and look quite good, while the verticality throughout each gives the traversal plenty of time to shine and make for some impressive fights. The graphics lean very heavily into the anime look and match up brilliantly with the voice acting to create an experience that feels true to its source material. Japanese voice acting is an option and one I will choose every time.
This might be the first Naruto game in a long time that does something new, blending anime with class-based online battles. The idea may seem a little strange but it works well, and it would be great to see Bandai Namco build off this with other anime franchises in future. Shinobi Striker is well worth your time if you like the Naruto series and even worth trying out if you just want a new multiplayer experience to get lost in.
Version tested: PS4 – Also available on Xbox One, PC