Game Reviewby Branden Johnson,
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido
Nailing absurdist humor is tricky. If you wink too much at the audience, it can be eye roll-inducing, and if you aren't polished enough in your presentation, you run the risk of your audience laughing at you, not with you. But Nintendo has pulled it off with Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, their new action-puzzle game for both the Switch and the 3DS. It's an over-the-top, laugh-out-loud-funny adventure with game mechanics that offer enough depth to keep you coming back for more.
Years back, a great conflict arose between the Empire and the Republic over the control of sushi. Known as the Sushi Struggles, many children found themselves orphaned as a result. The Empire, in its victory, forbade all in the Republic from even talking about sushi, much less eating it. You are Musashi (you can choose to be either male or female at the outset), an orphan whose parents disappeared in the Struggles. Good-natured and energetic, you take it upon yourself to find food for your fellow hungry orphans. But in so doing, you are caught in the middle of a fight between the Empire and the Sushi Liberation Force, which wants to share the joy of sushi with everyone in the world. It seems you're destined to become a Sushi Striker, one who aligns with a mystical sushi sprite and battles with plates of sushi. Naturally, the fate of the world rests on your shoulders.
The story is told through a combination of visual novel-style sequences and fully animated cutscenes. The anime scenes, I should mention, are easily television quality -- surprisingly good. Dialogue is very well written, characters are charming and eccentric, and overall this is another excellent localization job from Nintendo. At the end of the day, you could argue the storyline in a game like this doesn't really matter. We're here for the gameplay, right? However, the great care the writing team has taken to crafting hilarious lines, and the earnestness with which the incredibly absurd story is told, really sells the concept. It might not make much sense, but it's a ton of fun.
As entertaining as the story is, the real meat (er, fish) is in the gameplay. Sushi Striker is a fast-paced puzzle combat game that sees you grabbing plates of sushi and matching them with plates of the same color. Stacks of plates matched together then become projectiles you launch at your opponent, decreasing their health. The more plates you match at once, the more damage you do. Of course, your opponent is matching and throwing plates right back at you, so managing your own health becomes just as important as depleting theirs. Win or lose, you'll earn experience points to help you level up and gain more health. This makes even failed attempts not feel like a waste of time.
Battles are complicated by the fact that plates of sushi are arranged on conveyor belts moving in one of two directions. Plates can only be matched when they're parallel with each other, or have a clear, straight line between them, and the lanes never stop moving. This means the action gets frantic fast. A basic strategy is to hop from lane to lane, moving back and forth to stay on screen and rack up more plates. But there's another wrinkle: you can only stack one group of plates together for seven seconds. Get greedy and try to go longer than that, and you lose them all.
Beyond the basics, things get really interesting. In the world of the game, you're accompanied by sushi sprites, three of which you can take into battle with you at any one time. Each has its own inherent ability. One sprite might turn all the plates onscreen into the same color, while another will change sushi into healing items to replenish your health, and another might bless you with a shield to lessen damage from your foe. The power meters for your sprites' skills are filled as you eat sushi. Your enemies are similarly equipped, and they'll be using their sprites' abilities to their advantage, as well. Sprites have the ability to level up, just as you do -- your defense in battle is tied to your sprites' Defense stat. Power up your sprites enough and they'll “awaken” (or evolve, in the more common Pokémon parlance) and gain even more defensive power.
This is really just scratching the surface. There are a ton of interweaving systems at play in Sushi Striker, such as various items and traps that appear in certain stages. In fact, there are so many systems, it might seem overwhelming to read about them all at once. However, the game does a good job of pacing the introduction of new tools, modes, and concepts. You'll have a chance to get acquainted with each significant change to the game before you're given something new to play with.
This extends to the gradual expansion of your home base. Near the beginning of the story, the Sushi Liberation Force gains access to an island hideaway, and various structures become available that will help you in your quest. Here, you'll be able to increase your Striker Rank, get hints from other characters, and, eventually, participate in multiplayer battles. As the game progresses, the facilities at your base will level up, giving you more to do and more reason to check in every now and then. The highlight is Puzzle Mode. Here, you're given a series of boards to clear, and only five moves and 10 seconds to do it. You'll earn prizes for surviving through multiple rounds in a row, and your time limit gets more restrictive the further you progress. It's a great way to train your brain to better see the paths between plates, which will also help you out in the main game.
Strangely, multiplayer is locked behind the game's story, so you'll have to progress a ways into the game to access local multiplayer and a bit further to open online multiplayer. Local multiplayer on Switch can either be played against other players with their own systems or with another player on the same Switch. If you're both going to occupy one screen, however, you'll find the developers opted not to go with a split-screen setup. Instead, they ask that the more “experienced” player take the top portion of the screen (the area typically occupied by your opponent in single player), while the other takes the more traditional bottom portion. This is a bit odd, and it seems like a split-screen approach would have made more sense. It's not unplayable, but it takes some getting used to. Online multiplayer, on the other hand, functions just like regular single-player battles, albeit with a small amount of occasional lag. Nothing game-breaking, but worth noting.
Speaking of issues that aren't game-breaking but are problematic in their own right, we need to talk about the controls. You have a couple of wildly different options available to you. You can of course use a controller, holding A to select a plate and moving the control stick toward plates to match them together. You also have the option of playing this like a mobile game, fully on the touchscreen. Here's the problem: neither control scheme feels quite precise enough. In touchscreen mode, your finger will frequently obstruct your view, making it more difficult to see where to move next; on the other hand, it's much easier to select a plate of your choosing by simply touching it. Using a controller requires you to select a plate with the stick, which is cumbersome, as the plates are constantly moving. Not to mention the temptation to flail the stick in every direction to match plates with abandon is easy to fall into. The problem is, it works. It seems easier to progress in the game using a controller, but the purest expression of the game's concept comes in touchscreen mode. While neither is perfect, these minor frustrations didn't stop me from enjoying myself.
Graphically, the game is presented with sharp 2D visuals and bright colors. Aside from the anime cutscenes (which, again, are great), the game looks like a particularly well-drawn webcomic in motion. And while animations are limited and nothing to write home about, they get the job done. The music is probably the weakest part of the presentation, and it's not bad, it's just not very noticeable. You won't be humming these tunes when your Switch is stowed away, but you won't be tempted to mute them mid-game, either.
With a concept this weird, I wouldn't be surprised if people chose to give a game like Sushi Striker a pass. That would be a mistake. Nintendo's pedigree alone should convince anyone to try it out (not to mention co-developer indieszero, which is responsible for games like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and Retro Game Challenge), but beyond that, such a finely crafted, deep, and addictive game deserves praise on its own merits. There's so much to come back for beyond the game's extensive single-player campaign: secret levels that are unlocked if you perform well enough in the main game, puzzle mode, battles with friends -- the amount of content on display is impressive. Multiple times throughout the drafting of this review, I've wanted to stop and play more Sushi Striker. It's got its hooks in me, and I'm happy to let it reel me in.
Overall : A-
Graphics : A
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : A-
Presentation : A
+ Addictive gameplay with hilarious dialogue and storyline
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