“In a world without fish…” is just the kind of opening line that will be enough to get many people ‘hooked’ on Nintendo’s new venture (co-developed by indieszero). Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido does just that. This anime-inspired, oh-so-Japanese, strange puzzle, action-ish RPG seems a little out there, and as soon as you dive into it, you find that it is – and that is a good thing.
This anime-inspired, oh-so-Japanese, strange puzzle, RPG platformer seems a little out there, and as soon as you dive into it, you find that it is – and that is a good thing.
The basic storyline goes something like this: Years after the terrible sushi struggles, the evil Empire has taken control of the planet’s supply of sushi. You, a young boy/girl orphaned by the war, are determined to feed your village’s starving children. You venture out with much gusto, but all you can find is barely edible… fruit. While this valiant yet misguided attempt fails, it does lead to you being introduced to a member of the Sushi Liberation Front. From him, you learn about Sushi, Sushi Striking and the hidden world of Sushi Sprites. With this new found knowledge and new power supplied by your very own cute, floating teddy-bear-like sushi-supplying sprite you are resolved to solve all the World’s problems by sharing your own magical raw fish. Sounds fantastically odd, right? How about when I tell you that the whole game is filled with real anime-style cutscenes from start to finish?
Sushi-spouting, pattern-plating, fillet-flinging fun
The wonderfully weird story not-withstanding, Sushi Striker is a puzzle game first and foremost and the good news is that for the most part – it gets this right, and it is a lot of fun. The basic mechanic for the sushi battles is linking same-coloured plates of sushi together. Now, before you start worrying that this is just a slightly smellier take on traditional Candy-Crush-like games, the mechanics do not stop there. The plates you match colour-wise are all on alternatively running sushi-belts and the plates you match are collected into tall stacks to be then flung at your opponent. The more plates you link together, the more powerful the throw will be and the more damage you will cause. Different colour plates also cause different amounts of damage.
To add to this, three of the Sushi Sprites you have collected along the way (the Pokémon model) are powered up by the sushi you eat, and each has their own special ability that they bring along with them during battles. Once you have eaten enough of their sushi – they are charged up – allowing you to unleash anything from electrified plates to towering chopsticks at your opponent or even replenishing some of your own HP. This added ability allows you to juggle your need for increased attack or defense stats and adds a little more strategy to this high-paced matching frenzy. The combination of all these mechanics means that you really have to think and move quickly and because most battles are only about two minutes or less in length even failures are not too much of a drag.
The combination of all these mechanics means that you really have to think and move quickly and because most battles are only about two minutes or less in length even failures are not too much of a drag.
I found the puzzles really enjoyable and my only real complaints were that it sometimes seemed like the difficulty did not escalate in an expected way. Occasionally, I found that, for no reason I could readily point out, I would find a random battle really difficult, and then sometime later another battle ridiculously easy. Even some of the boss battles seemed easier than a few of the battles that had come before them. Another small issue is related to the use of the touchscreen. This game is being released on the Switch, but also on the 3DS. I played the game on my TV quite a bit but found that for the first time out of any of the Switch games I own, I preferred to play it undocked. I have no real issue with that fact on its own (in fact I think that is precisely the benefit of owning a Switch) but at times it seemed to me that the game had been designed to play with a stylus. At the start of every battle, when not playing using the touch screen, I had no real indication as to which plate my ‘cursor’ was hovering above – and so no idea in which direction I should move. I did prefer using the analog stick for general play rather than the touchscreen, but I think playing that way means that there is a slight disadvantage for the first few seconds of every game – until you get your bearings.
Look, mom! Sushi made me all big and strong…
Now what really makes Sushi Striker stand out from your traditional puzzle game (other than its rather strange plot) is its heavy RPG element. The overworld is made up of a massive map. The story moves you along a linear path comprised of stand-alone sushi battles. Every fifth sushi battle is against a mini-boss and every major area has their own main boss battle. Winning sushi battles gains you points – these, in turn, raise your Striker spec level and increase your stamina and strength scores.
Similarly, the three Sushi Sprites you use in battle, as well as two more that you assign as reserves, also gain points, increasing their experience and skill levels. The higher the level of the Sushi Sprite, the more effective they are in battle, and the more new kinds of Sushi they can supply during the next battle. You collect the various Sushi Sprites along your journey, either on the route or from opponents you defeat along the way. As you can tell – this once again has a very Pokémon feel and look to it. The Sprites even “grow” (evolve) and there are over 100 to collect, not to mention the 45 different unique Sushi items.
The RPG elements of collecting and upgrading your character really added something different to the puzzle aspect of the game, and were not too bad in their own right. However, at times you did feel like this mechanic was not explored enough and underutilised. This was particularly in the case of the Sprites themselves who seemed to evolve for no real rhyme or reason.
Sushi! Sushi! Sushi! Sushi! Sushi. Sushi. Sushi… Sushi?
Have you ever said or even read a word again and again and again – and then suddenly it loses all its meaning in your head – or starts to look like a nonsense word? If it hasn’t, try reading the title above a few more times. Ok – weird, right? So the good news is you’re not going crazy. We all go through it sometimes – it’s called semantic satiation, and is a psychologically measurable phenomenon in which ‘repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.’ (Thanks, Wikipedia). Basically, you get tired of seeing something again and again, and your brain just switches it off – stops paying active attention to it – and abruptly and for a short time afterward it stops making sense. Unfortunately, I think I started to experience a similar phenomenon when playing this game. I’m calling it gaming glut – mostly because it’s alliterative, and gut is fish-related and so ties in with the theme of the game quite nicely.
A lot about this game is easy to like – and even love… at first. However, the repetition of the enemies, plot scenarios and particularly the puzzles began to dull my senses after a while. And towards the end of the story mode, play even began to feel a little relentless. Now, I understand that puzzle games are by their very nature somewhat repetitive, and RPGs are supposed to involve a significant amount of grinding. However, the constant sameness of the final sections really tired me out and made it a lot less enjoyable than at the start.
The constant sameness of the final sections really tired me out and made it a lot less enjoyable than at the start.
Also, at the start, the ridiculousness of the story is really interesting. Many of the opening cut-scenes had me smiling at their absurdity and wonderful Japanese-ness. At the start, it felt like the writers were in on the joke – they knew that the premise of this game was nonsensical and really went with it. Kind of like a comic hero who breaks the fourth-wall and winks at the audience. That, along with the typical kids’ TV show anime voice acting, just added to the fun.
However, about halfway through it felt as though the story’s tone changed substantially. Instead of embracing the crazy – it began to feel that the game started to take the plot way too seriously. And even got slightly dark at the end. To me, this popped out of the blue and, again – like a word repeated too many times – seemed out of context and made little sense.
Sushi Bonanza or Sayonara?
So is the repetitiveness like the tetrodotoxin of the Japanese blowfish Fugu dish – leaving you wishing you hadn’t ordered the Sushi Striker? Well no, luckily there is definitely more going for this game than against it. Normally, I find puzzle games a bit boring, but the addition of the RPG-element did keep me interested. The puzzles themselves are fun and require a sufficient amount of skill to keep you wanting to try again. Yes, there is a slight issue with the puzzle mechanic when not using the touchscreen and the RPG element could have been fleshed out a bit more, but all in all the game is fun.
Plus, the game also has a related, but separate puzzle mini-game within it as well as multi-player integration. The latter addition is probably the defining item that made me push the game up from a ‘Fair’ 6/10 to a ‘Good’ 7/10. Even though the story goes on for too long and could’ve been shortened, and the tone went a little strange at the end – if you ever get to the point where the story is just not working for, you can avoid it all together. I managed to play both locally using two joy cons with my wife, and online against another reviewer. And despite a little issue with lag popping up online every now and again, the multi-player was fun and a ranking system, available once the game goes live, does bring an interesting competitiveness to the mostly single-player puzzle game that I think will be quite popular.
An online ranking system… does bring an interesting level of competitiveness to the mostly single-player puzzle game.
Now let me let you in on a little secret. I don’t really like sushi all that much. Well, that’s not true, you see growing up I never touched the stuff. It kind of gave me the creeps. However, after a few friends got me to try some sometime in my late-teens-early-twenties – I actually decided it wasn’t so bad. Over the years, the more I tried it, the more I enjoyed it. You just have to pick the right time and the right amount of sushi that works for you and maybe even pick out some parts you can do without. I think Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido will be a bit like that. Avoid some of the later story bits when it starts to drag, but keep coming back for some fun puzzling with a different RPG spin on it. And when you’re in the mood for it – a plate or two of online puzzle play may just hit the spot.