Sushi is life. Sushi is death. Sushi is love. Sushi is war. Sushi is hometown. Sushi is the reason you have never known love. Sushi is the reason you’ll die. And sushi is the only good thing in this dark world of wasabi and parasites.
Sushi Striker: Way of the Sushido Review
Platforms: Switch(Reviewed), 3DS
Developer: Nintendo EPD and indiezero
Sushi Striker: Way of the Sushido is set in the once prosperous Sushi Republic, which over the past few years has come under the control of the domineering Sushi Empire, repressing its citizens and leaving the bountiful number of orphaned children in a dire situation, where they must toil for their own means of survival. One of these children, a youth named Musashi, is sought out by an enigmatic figure armed with the mystical weapon of war used in the Great Sushi Struggles of years past, a Sushi Sprite. A magical creature with the inexplicable ability to summon a magical sushi conveyor belt for its designated master to consume, embedding them with power and a number of loose multicolored plates that may be lobbed at opposition as a means of battle.
Upon discovering their very own Sushi Sprite, the great and powerful Jinrai, Musashi becomes wanted by the Empire, joins the burgeoning resistance that is the Sushi Liberation Front, and becomes involved in a great war that… mostly consists of him/her doing all the work, while everybody else dawdles about. But despite brushing up against some more serious themes, Sushi Striker keeps things about as light as can be, and simply uses this heroic journey structure as the base for a tale driven by general zaniness, outlandish and colorful characters, and obviously an overstated adoration for the delicacy that the developers thought was so nice, they put it in the title twice. It’s the type of story that is not overstated and is distributed in small bursts, delivering a lot of levity and humor as it indulges in a generous helping of anime tropes, which are only further expressed through the game’s presentation.
The developers were able to make every single visual novel style story segment of this game shine with charisma and personality, as characters feverishly bop around, switch between different expressions and poses, and generally express more character than most proper visual novels hope to. But that not being quite enough, there are also a fair number of fully animated cutscenes that further punctuate key story moments, and go to further express the immense energy the game channels elsewhere, making each one of them a treat to behold. A feat only aided through the implementation of a surprisingly passionate English dub, though part of me wishes they could have sprang for a full dub of all the visual novel story segments, which primarily rely on partial dubbing or repurposed character barks. Still, it remains a very polished and vibrant looking game nevertheless, with everything from the menus to the overworld maps between stages clearly having received a great deal of attention from its developers, and with a personality as prominent as this, I can’t really ask for much more.
Okay, so it is a very quirky and well presented affair, nice to get that out of the way early for once, but how does it play? Well, Sushi Striker is a frantic high speed puzzle game where the player must gather up plates of sushi as it flows along a stream of conveyor belts, hopping from plates of matching colors in order to form larger and larger stacks and then, either manually or automatically, have Musashi fling these plates at their designated opponent. All while trying to amass more and bigger combos in a series of roughly 200 tests of attrition against opponents.
That is the long and short of it, yet as time goes on layers are progressively applied to the game in the form of rechargeable skills that can turn the tide of battle. Sushi Jubilees where the highest class sushi streams across a player’s conveyor belts and their damage output is increased considerably. Bombs that must be gathered up as part of a combo, lest Musashi take massive damage. Or paralyzing plates of wasabi that immobilize characters, leaving them open to massive damage with no recourse.
But no matter how many layers and concepts are thrown on top of it, the core gameplay of hoping between plates, amsassing massive combos within a set timeframe, and nailing opposition with a decisive strike never really changes, and it never stops being as enjoyable. There is something about matching assorted moving objects that I find enticing, especially with the high speeds offered by most levels of play seen in Sushi Striker. Every second the player needs to take in large amounts of information and make a decision to amass the highest damage possible, preserve their character, and is the most optimal move available based on the randomized assortment of raw fish (and also fruit) available to them.
It is a feverish system that I found myself quite taken to, with each battle being an intense test of reflexes and skills that got me hooked, routinely playing the game until my thumbs started getting sore from routinely mashing the A button and swaying around the left stick to link as many plates as possible. However, it is not all reflexes and intensively hand motions, as Sushi Striker gives the player a good degree of customization in how they approach battles, boasting a robust collection of raisable and evolvable Sushi Sprites that Musashi can collect, and some more organic difficulty customization in the form of equipment that alters the flow of sushi, but also cut Musashi’s health in half in exchange for (effectively) an elusive rainbow S-rank at the end of each stage. Or a Satisfactory-rank as I like to call them.
I bring this up periodically, mostly when talking about Sonic games, but I am kind of a freak when it comes to ranking systems. I always want to get the highest rank possible, and get annoyed when the game denies it to me, immediately wanting to jump back in and get the best score possible. It has impacted my enjoyability in the past, but much to my surprise, I had little difficulty going through the main stages with halved health, and only ran into actual difficulties with this approach once I got into the late game extra stages… and the final boss, both of which I had to drop it down to normal, or as I internalized it, easy.
I would say this hampered my enjoyment of this game, as I felt like I was slumming it when I had to take the training garbs off, try with gusto, and walk away with a B-rank, or Banal-rank as I like to call them. But truth be told I was steadily losing interest as the game moved into its final fourth. At that point, the game had shown its assorted tricks, the narrative was mostly centered around walking to the final area and kicking the big bad’s nasty little tuchus, and EXP distribution had reached something of a standstill, with level ups for Musashi or her Sushi Sprites becoming rarities.
It still managed to pull off a few interesting things in the end, such as the restriction-driven battles against the four goobers before reaching dark lord whatshisface, but my passion for sushi striking was diminishing, as there really wasn’t much the game could do at this point other than bombard the player with challenges represented by each new encounter, and also the bonus missions attached to each stage. These are mostly petty numerically driven requirements such as getting a combo as big or small as X, dealing Y damage in a finishing blow, or wrapping things up in Z seconds. Others… kind of suck, and require the player to modify their playstyle to achieve an arbitrary goal. Things like needing to allow the enemy to survive long enough to activate a set number of Sushi Jubilees, doing a high combos via mechanics that I still don’t really understand, spamming a set number of skills, or needing to restore HP by equipping a specific Sushi Sprite.
I tried my darndest to clear out the map and complete every challenge the game offered me initially, because I like 100% runs, but after doing the same rigmarole a hundred times, my patience began to break. I wound up playing through most stages at least twice, once for the S-rank and once for the challenge missions, and doing this simply became tiring after a point. It got to the point where I stopped doing the extra stages and did not even bother with the post-credits area.
My thoughts on Sushi Striker ran through something of a spectrum as I went through it, starting optimistically yet unsure about much of its mechanical minutiae, only to learn enough to develop a degree of confidence as I racked up high marks and blew up any and all opposition with fat stacks of porcelain. Yet as the numbers grew higher and the act became routine, my enthusiasm for the title languished. I nothing short of adored Sushi Striker from a presentational perspective for the energy and charm it exudes, but it instilled a degree of fatigue within me when all was said and done. It all made me wish that the game were a bit lighter in terms of content, and had opted out of being a full retail release, cutting away many of its samey battles in favor of delivering a more punctual, and less intensive affair. There is a truly great frantic puzzle game here with some excellent aesthetic backing, but even on the finest food, one can gorge themselves into a painful stupor that leaves them wishing they had a better understanding of portion control.