Anime fans are getting a major kick in the pants today with the release of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, the latest in Namco Bandai's line of fighting games.  Like previous entries, Naruto features various characters from the series, as well as a staggering new amount of additions that bring the fighter count to well over 80 – certainly nirvana for those who live and breathe in this ninja-powered universe.

But if you're just getting into the game for the first time, there are a few things you should know about it, as it's not your typical fighting game.  Sure, it's still one player against another in full-on "fight to the finish" combat, but there are a few techniques you'll want to take advantage of in order to emerge victorious.  And you'll also want to keep in mind that you don't have to fight alone, as you can call for assists in certain places.

Good luck, and fight like a ninja!  *grunt*

Story Mode, and Getting Started

For those of you new to the series, you might be a little overwhelmed by what happens in the Story Mode, as the game opens with an epic encounter against a Nine-Tailed Fox, who begins trashing the village of Konohagakure (The Hidden Leaf).  But this gives you an idea of the mobility you have in the game, and also opens up to a variety of characters you're introduced throughout.

It does take a while to get started, but getting to know these characters – and what they're capable of doing in combat – will get you in a better stance when it comes to fighting.  With so many to choose from in the fighting mode – again, over 80, including younger variations of popular characters – you'll have plenty of room to experiment and "try out" types to see who suits you best.

If you've never heard of Naruto and want to play it safe, stick with more popular types like Naruto himself (a young, fierce ninja wannabe) or Rock Lee (a devoted student with a bowl-like haircut), and then ease into the various others introduced in the series.  You'll get the hang of the system rather quick.

Basic Combat

The combat takes place in full 3D, with wide-open arenas that resemble locations taken from the anime series.  You'll want to make sure you stay in range during these fights, because if you wander off, you run the risk of losing.  There should be no problem getting around and figuring out strategies, however – just make sure you keep moving.

Along with the ability to fight in close quarters, characters also come with projectile attacks, with shuriken and other objects, which can throw off an opponent preparing a counter move, or do minimal damage from a safe distance.  Close combat does the most damage, and chakra moves, such as the chakra dash, can really come in handy defensively.  (Don't forget to use items in the environment to your advantage as well – especially with projectiles.)

In addition, if you time your button presses right, you should also be able to counter an enemy with ease.  Usually this comes in the form of ninpo, where you're able to teleport out of harm's way when an enemy is striking, and then appearing behind them, catching them off guard.  It's a much more simpler system than the more complicated counter maneuvers found in other brawlers (such as, for instance, Dead Or Alive), and there's plenty of room to perfect the technique.

The most startling part about the combat is the ability to unleash a chakra-powered super move.  These vary depending on character, but once you launch one, they're almost unavoidable, as you launch into some crazy finishing cinematic technique that does a whole lot of damage.  You'll want to save these for a crucial point in the match, preferably towards the finish.  They're well worth checking out, tho – these guys put on quite a show.

Awakening and Assists

Finally, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 has some great techniques that all fighting fans will want to take advantage of.

The Awakening system is one that allows you to supercharge your moves if you're running low on energy, giving you – literally – a fighting chance to come back and win.  Once activated (which can only be done once a match), your strength increases with each move you perform, whether projectile or physical.  So, again, save it for the proper time.

The Assist system is also something well worth learning and mastering.  Here, you can choose two characters (from the many available) to help you out over the course of a fight, calling them in to help chain together combos or throw an enemy off.  But you'll want to keep an eye on their energy, as they have bars that deplete just like yours when they take damage.  If they end up receiving too many critical hits, you won't be able to call upon them again until the next match. 

Relax and Go With It

With Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, the free-flowing fighting system isn't nearly as strict as other brawlers that people have come to master over the years.  Sure, you can develop strategies, but it's mostly about learning what defenses you have in your possession, when to strike at an opponent, and when to use your abilities, mainly super attacks and Awakening, at the proper time.  Again, experiment whenever you can with different types, and just have fun with it.  NINJA!

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is available now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.  *grunt*