Well grasshopper, it is time once again to explore the way of the Ninja and take up the battle against the forces of evil. Based on the popular Japanese manga and anime series, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 is at its heart, a fighting game.

Although branded as the third game in the series there are in fact some eight titles across the various Sony platforms, with even more released for the Nintendo platforms – plus one for the Xbox 360 (and another in the pipeline). This latest instalment takes the player through some pivotal points in Naruto’s young life, culminating in the ‘Sasuke Retrieval’ story arc.

As you would expect, the core of the game revolves around combat, and lots of it. There are some role playing elements; however these serve as a vehicle to upgrade your character. Overall there are some 40+ playable characters in the game each with their own special attacks (jutsus), delivering both regular and spectacularly devastating amounts of damage. Not all of them are available to begin with; however as you progress you will unlock more characters, items and moves.

The controls are very straightforward and simple to use, while the onscreen movement is fluid and responsive. The fighting is all low level cartoon violence and for the most part relatively bloodless. In respect to the combat itself Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 doesn’t exactly push the envelope; seasoned fans of fighting games may find the less-than-average opponent AI won’t keep them challenged for long. The flipside of this means Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 is accessible to gamers who would normally steer clear of fighting games due to their intimidation factor and sheer complexity. The combat limitations are further offset by an intriguing storyline in the main game, plus the many interesting characters with unique personalities and abilities.

As well as the powerful ultimate jutsus, characters can now use summoning mode, which either increases their size to colossal proportions or summons a giant beast to fight on their behalf. At the conclusion of each fight, your performance is analysed and you are given a grading - very much like a school report (which, in a way, it is), and rewarded for your efforts, should they prove worthy. Characters can be upgraded and customised with unlocked techniques to suit your preferences, which increases the game’s replay value.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 has several modes of play, including, "Hero’s History", where you can relive several momentous battles for each of four different arcs from the anime. This mode in particular will appeal to fans of the series.

Ultimate Contest is essentially a sandbox-type setting, where you wander around Hidden Leaf Village; interacting with the villagers and scoring the odd side quest and pitting your skills against other ninja. As you explore and fight you will pick up helpful items and weapons, plus unlock playable characters and techniques. Additional goodies can also be purchased for cash (Ryo). Useful items can often be found by smashing objects or by undertaking some seemingly impossible flying leaps to hidden roof tops. Of course, there’s more to it than that; this mode has a well crafted storyline behind it, and has the look and feel of an extra-long Naruto episode. Its authenticity will delight the fans.

There’s also a training mode for practising your combat moves; Naruto’s House, which is a veritable vault of stills, clips and sounds from the franchise, which you can collect or purchase throughout the game; and a Break Room with three mini-games - racing an opponent up a tree, a shuriken-throwing contest, and some agility exercises capped off with a ninja posedown.

The mini-game mode, although building on themes from the core gameplay, does feel a bit out of place in a fighting game. It seems more of a tacked-on extra feature for added entertainment value. That being said, a couple of the mini-games can be quite fun when played against a human opponent. Further into Ultimate Contest mode, there are a number of other mini-games accessible through the pachinko parlour, which are moderately entertaining and have the potential to earn you lots of loot.

The cell-shaded graphics have clean, simple lines and are very reminiscent of the anime - as are the twenty different split-level combat stages and numerous cut scenes. Ultimate jutsus are particularly magnificent to behold. Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Naruto game without sounds, music and voice talent from the series; and you can choose from English or, for added amusement, the original Japanese voice-over.

While it may not be the best fighting game on the market, for sheer entertainment value Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 packs a wicked punch. There’s plenty to see, do, fight and collect… We had loads of fun with this one, and we guarantee fans of the series will too.