I've been a huge Naruto fan for years now. From watching the original anime and the majority of Shippuden, to picking up the manga near the tail end of its serialization when the show's fillers became unbearable, to seeing several of the hit-or-miss Naruto movies over the years, I've been through thick and thin with Masashi Kishimoto's powerhouse shonen franchise.
When it comes to Naruto games, I've had a similarly rocky relationship. Some, like the Ultimate Ninja and Ultimate Ninja Storm games from CyberConnect2, are brilliant celebrations of the Naruto source material, thanks in large part to epic action set-pieces and breathtaking visuals. Others, like Rise of a Ninja and its sequel, The Broken Bond, are far more marginal takes on the franchise, with clumsy combat and uninspired mission structure.
I've played my fair share of so-so Naruto games, but I've never played one as bad as developer Soleil Ltd. and publisher Bandai Namco's Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker.
A four-on-four multiplayer game set during the events of Boruto – Kishimoto's follow-up to the Naruto manga – Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker admirably lets players craft their dream ninja to do battle with other Naruto fans online. There's a robust character creator, and myriad ways to customize your ninja, from various haircuts and headbands, to jutsus that span the entirety of the Naruto franchise.
However, no amounts of customization can save Shinobi Striker from its greatest flaws. The combat is repetitive, multiplayer unbalanced, and the overall experience, simply put, isn't very fun. While the game might satisfy the most die-hard of Naruto fans, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker doesn't offer much for nearly everyone else.
When players start Shinobi Striker for the first time, they are prompted to create an avatar for themselves that will serve as their initial fighter in multiplayer. While options are somewhat limited at the onset – fans of the anime and manga will recognize nearly every facial option as belonging to existing characters in the Naruto universe – there's a surprising charm to the editor. Before long, I had crafted a ninja out of pure fiction, combining the spiky hair of Shikamaru with the whiskers of Naruto and the tired eyes of Itachi. Of course, over time, players are able to unlock more unique customization options for their online persona, from the clothes that they wear to the jutsus that they use in combat, but even right out the gate, Shinobi Striker's customization options makes a strong first impression for those who have long dreamed of being a part of the world of Naruto. However, that good will is lost just about the moment that players actually step into the game itself.
Shinobi Striker takes place during the time following the events of the Fifth Shinobi World War. The world is at peace, and the Leaf Village is ushering in a new era of ninjas under the tutelage of Naruto, who is now the Seventh Hokage.
For those unfamiliar with the Boruto manga and anime, Shinobi Striker paints an interesting picture of this new era. The once old and primitive Leaf Village has given rise to a new wave of technology, from computers to cars. Among the most interesting pieces of technology, though, is a VR hologram, which serves as Shinobi Striker's single-player component. From completing various tutorials to undertaking more challenging scenarios solo or with friends, Shinobi Striker offers a comprehensive amount of material for fans of the series to dig into.
Unfortunately, the missions themselves just aren't very enjoyable. From repetitive collect-a-thons to combat encounters with dull AI combatants, Shinobi Striker's solo and co-op missions feel like complete afterthoughts. To be fair, the game has been marketed primarily as a competitive multiplayer game, but the lack of a proper PvE component feels like a missed opportunity, especially when compared to the far more substantial offerings provided by the Ninja Storm games.
Competitive multiplayer, meanwhile, tasks players with fighting in teams of four across a number of maps and game modes. Most of them are variants of classic multiplayer staples, such as capture the flag and team deathmatch. Meanwhile, other modes are a bit more unique, with the most notable being "Barrier Battle," which has teams taking turns attacking and defending a boss enemy on the map for points.
Regardless of the mode you play, Shinobi Striker's core mechanics are the same. Players can use "chakra" – Naruto's form of energy – to run up, down, and around obstacles such as trees and walls. Players can also use chakra to leap long distances, dodge enemy attacks, and perform powerful jutsus, including many of the iconic moves fans have come to expect from the Naruto series, such as rasengan and chidori. Aside from chakra-related moves, players also have access to a regular attack combo, a block, and items, such as kunais and explosives.
On paper, these mechanics sound pretty cool. If you're a fan of the series, you'd be forgiven for envisioning multiplayer in Shinobi Striker as the next evolution of Naruto games, combining the combat of a Ninja Storm game with newfound customization options, all while bumping up the player count from two players to eight. Unfortunately, Shinobi Striker is held back by two nagging issues: depth and balance.
Shinobi Striker may have never claimed to be a followup to 2016's Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, but it's impossible not to compare the two games. Ninja Storm 4 had set the bar high for future licensed Naruto games, so it was reasonable to expect a similar level of quality from a Bandai Namco game published in 2018.
Unfortunately, whereas Ninja Storm 4 offered just enough gameplay depth to keep players hooked, Shinobi Striker tumbles all the way back to square one. Navigation is unwieldy; chakra jumps are finicky and hard to execute, while a poor camera constantly hinders players from getting a clear view of the action in front of them. Combat itself is repetitive, due primarily to a lack of real button combos and move lists. Characters' movement speeds are also painfully slow, to the point where it feels like you're controlling a tank rather than a nimble ninja. And while executing different jutsus and super moves can be entertaining, they fail to save what's otherwise a repetitive and under-cooked gameplay system.
Exacerbating Shinobi Striker's gameplay woes is its lack of multiplayer balance. Due to the simplicity of combat, players are forced to rely on repetitive chains of punches and kicks to defeat adversaries. While players can defend themselves by blocking or performing a "substitution" evasion, combat always tends to boil down to spamming the same attack button until one player runs out of chakra and becomes completely defenseless against the onslaught of oncoming attacks. It's a frustrating gameplay loop that might have been serviceable, albeit boring, in a purely single-player game. However, as it pertains to a game in which the vast majority of your time will be spent playing multiplayer, it's simply unacceptable.
Shinobi Striker's lack of depth and balance only serve to underscore an even greater problem for the game: it just isn't very much fun. The game only has a handful of different maps, and even taking into account the different modes and customization options available to players, the action gets old extremely quickly. In an age where polished multiplayer games like Battlefield and terrific anime games like Dragon Ball FighterZ exist, there's simply no reason for players to waste their time playing a half-baked game, no matter the license. Naruto deserves better.
Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker is not a great game. Though it has an entertaining character creator and some fantastic customization options, separate the game from the license for a second, and it becomes clear that Shinobi Striker is a sub-par action game and an even worse multiplayer experience. The game sets an interesting foundation for future Naruto games, if only conceptually, but no one save for the bravest of Naruto fans would likely enjoy Shinobi Striker in its current form. Better off next time, Naruto. Believe it!