Anime-based fighting games are a lot more commonplace than you might think.  After all, what better way to keep fans enthralled than to give them the opportunity to play as their favorite characters, unleashing super strikes or, in the case of Namco Bandai's Dragon Ball games, thunderous kamehamehas?

That doesn't mean we should brush aside the Naruto series.  For years, Namco Bandai has fine tuned these games to near perfection, giving you freedom to run around in a 3D environment while pounding away at your opponent, calling upon likely teammates to help you out and finishing with a magical-like essence of jujitsu that leaves them reeling?

Ever since the series shifted into its Ultimate Ninja Storm arc some years ago, the Naruto franchise has gotten better, focusing less on exploration elements and more on confrontations with both heroes and villains alike, spanning across a cast of dozens.  (That means even less-than-favorite characters are playable, an absolute must for fans of the series.)  And Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, due for release later this spring for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, could easily be the best of the bunch.

Featuring over 80 playable characters in the fray (including popular favorites, like Naruto and Rock Lee), this sequel's options are more wide open than ever before.  CyberConnect 2, who previously worked their magic on the other Naruto games (as well as Capcom's Asura's Wrath), have tinkered with the fighting system a bit, so it actually feels even more connected with its characters than ever before.  

Let's first talk about one of the better new features of the game, the Awakening Mode.  Here, there's an interesting flip-flop tactic that occurs when your character starts losing energy over the course of a fight.  Instead of swinging empty fists and kicks out of desperation, your character suddenly becomes more powerful when activating Awakening, enhancing their abilities.  But you'll want to use this sparingly, as it can only be turned on one during each fight.

Assists also play a big part in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3.  Along with your main character, you'll call upon two additional characters who will fly in and help you out in the midst of battle.  Think of it as a "tag team" tactic along the same lines as Marvel vs. Capcom, where one of 13 different combos can be unleashed long enough to distract – or hurt – your opponent, while you gain your footing and figure out how to get back into the fight.

It wouldn't be a Naruto game if it didn't have some sort of cinematic anime style to it, as the previous chapters did.  We're happy to report that Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 will definitely lean a bit more on the storytelling, while still making you feel as if you were a vital part of the battle (because you are, obviously).  The powerful chakra-powered moves you can unleash over the course of a fight are devastatingly awesome, with each character bringing something unique to watch.

It's not just about tap-tap buttons for punch and kick combos.  These cinemas employ a quick-time event style set-up, similar to what Asura's Wrath did last year, which means you have to hit them at just the right time to push an event forward.  Not everyone is a fan of this, but it does lead to bigger results in a match, such as growing to Ultraman size to smash an opponent or leveling an angry fox with a steel pipe.  Bosses definitely play a part in these sequel, and timing your attacks and quick-time event completions is everything if you want to keep going with the story.

For the first time in the series, you'll also have a choice when it comes to character development.  There are points over the course of the story where you can choose to continue the current fight that you're partaking in, or opt for a flashback, which lets you take control of certain aspects while you learn more about your fighter.  Again, storytelling is a huge selling point with Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, and considering how well CyberConnect 2 has done in the past with it, it continues to make big strides.

Not only is this Naruto game staying true to the story arcs of the anime series, but also the appearance and sound.  The graphics really come alive, like a powerful anime product should, and the animations are sure to mesmerize.  For that matter, the sound is right on, featuring voice actors from the show (*grunt*) and energetic music.  If you've got a big-screen HDTV, this is definitely the product for you, as the action in each battle comes alive.

Look for Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 to hit stores on March 5th for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.