Naruto’s Gamescom presentation is why I love Japanese developers (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

What was it?

— A 30 minutes hands-off presentation delivered by a cosplaying CEO.

What did we learn?

— The already-impressive cel-shaded style looks excellent on new-gen.

— You can now fight as all three selected characters, but they share one health bar.

— Elemental attacks are now boosted by the environment.

How was it?

Japanese developers are the best. Phil Spencer may walk out on stage in a Battletoads t-shirt, but CyberConnect2 CEO Hiroshi Matsuyama has the stones to spend an entire day hosting Gamescom presentations dressed as Naruto in his nine tails sage state. It may have taken a Google search and a phone call to a Naruto-obsessed friend to fully understand the cosplay, but the effort was nonetheless appreciated at the time.

Matsuyama begins his presentation with an apology for Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s slip into 2016. He does, however, confirm the new launch day of February 5, 2016, as well as the multiple pre-order bonuses and collector’s editions. The pre-order bonus includes two new fighters to the series: Boruto (Naruto’s son) and Sarada Uchiha. To get into their ties to the series would be like David Starkey explaining the history of the British, so just know they are new fighters who are important.

We are then shown some of the first screens of the game. While the cel-shaded visuals of previous titles still look impressive on PS3 and 360, the improvements are striking on current-gen. Some of the new visual effects like motion blurring further emphasise the anime aesthetic, like the ghosting of a character’s legs when they run at high speeds. The auras around characters as they generate chakra also looks much better, too.

The general fighting system has also been changed: previous entries in the series had you select a lead character with two support characters, whom would jump in and help out upon request, but now all three fighters can be controlled, similar to Marvel vs Capcom. However, to keep things balanced, all three fighters will share one health bar, with fights a best two-out-of-three contest.

New facial expressions have also been added to further add to the ‘playable anime’ effect. While the ‘angry’ and ‘confident’ faces look nice, it’s the funny ‘I’ve just been smacked in the face by a giant fist’ or ‘completely confused’ looks which really add character. Costumes will also suffer wear-and-tear over the course of a fight. This doesn’t seem dynamic, though, but more a general, predictable degradation as each character sustains damage over time. But each screen looks incredible. While we only saw snippets of gameplay, they were all shown without a HUD, making moments almost indistinguishable from anime. It’s surprising that other games don’t adopt this visual style, considering how consistently impressive it looks.

In terms of the combat, it looks pretty familiar, except elemental attacks now do sustained damage (opponents will suffer burns) and strikes will also be affected by the weather and terrain. So if you’re stood in a puddle of water, your water magic is intensified. We were shown the contrast of a character summoning a water dragon in sand, looking rather timid, compared to it’s much larger and aggressive brethren just summoned from a lake.

With Naruto SUNS 4 being the first game developed exclusively for new-gen consoles, it is certainly the best-looking game in the series, but it stands to play similarly to its predecessors, and that’s probably not a bad thing. The aesthetic is so striking that it makes me want to play it, despite not having watched all the decades of the show. Whether or not it can attract new gamers or those unfamiliar with the source material, I doubt, but for those hooked on the show and the manga, it certainly doesn’t try to fix what isn’t broken.

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