Using your character's items well can also turn the tide of a battle on occasion, though it's unfortunate that reaching the D pad they're mapped to is almost impossible without briefly giving up either the left analog stick or the face buttons. Items that you can use at any time during a fight include consumables that boost stats and various thrown weapons that either lower the stats of enemies or simply do damage on impact. There's a lot of variety, and because some of the items are exclusive to certain characters, they're worth considering when it comes to choosing who to fight as. The basic controls might be the same for everyone, but the different fighting styles and battle items ensure that no two characters feel the same.
The problem is that only 12 of the 25 characters on the roster are available from the outset, and the only way to unlock the rest of them--along with extra moves, support characters, outfits, and awakening modes--is to play through the Ultimate Mission mode. Many of the missions you undertake are battles that you have to win while meeting certain conditions, and they make for some interesting challenges. Other missions, though, involve minigames that aren't nearly as much fun: You'll play hide-and-seek with the children of Hidden Leaf Village, you'll race through forests and vertically up the trunks of huge trees, and you'll wonder why you can't unlock the rest of the roster any other way. Worse still, wandering around Hidden Leaf Village between missions to find new missions and to collect the items and currency necessary to unlock new battle features stops being fun after 30 minutes, once you've seen everything.
Hidden Leaf Village looks great, but nothing interesting ever happens there. There are shops to visit, and there are characters with one or two lines of dialogue each to interact with; but until you near the end of the story missions (each is a flashback to a key event from one of the first 100-plus episodes of the anime), there's very little to test your skills there. Even the secret scrolls that you collect and subsequently spend on unlocking support characters are clearly marked on the map and impossible to miss, so picking them up feels more like a chore than a challenge. The controls you use while in Hidden Leaf are similar to those in combat, but here you use them in much more mundane ways. The only time you'll need to use your chakra, for example, is to open locked doors, and the only targets you'll be punching or throwing shuriken at are inanimate objects that all contain money or scrolls.
Boss battles are undoubtedly the highlight of Ultimate Mission mode.
Regardless of the fact that Hidden Leaf is so beautifully realized in Ultimate Ninja Storm, and despite villagers' attempts to tell you that there are "a lot of people in it," the place feels deserted. More recognizable characters and generic villagers show up as you progress through the missions, but the village never really feels alive, and it would still feel quiet even if you multiplied the apparent population by 10. It's laughable, then, when one of your missions is to break up a fight between the characters Shino and Kiba, who, in an empty space that could comfortably accommodate a few hundred people, are arguing about getting in each other's way. More laughable still is the notion that their fight (read: quiet disagreement) is supposedly bothering people. Still, when other missions on offer include challenges like "play for 20 hours" and "walk 20,000 paces," that one almost qualifies as a highlight.
The real high points of the Ultimate Mission Mode--and, sadly, there are very few of them--are the boss battles that pit you against "giant" characters like Gamabunta and Gaara. Beating these missions requires a combination of the skills you've learned in regular combat and some rapid button-pressing reflexes for cinematic events during which command prompts appear onscreen. These encounters are not only the most spectacular-looking features of the game, but they're also a lot of fun and, since they're generally bookended by cutscenes, are some of the only times that the story is delivered via something other than a scroll of text.
Ultimate Ninja Storm does a great job of looking, sounding, and feeling like its source material. The combat is a lot of fun with a friend or against any of the AI's four difficulty settings. Unfortunately, though, to get the most from it you have to spend a minimum of 10 to 15 hours playing and replaying missions in a mode that's artificially long. The lack of online play is also disappointing given that it's practically a requisite for the genre at this point. Ultimate Ninja Storm's biggest problem as a fighting game is simply that it isn't just a fighting game.