Hitting your mortal enemy of plates was never this adorable.
When it comes to puzzle games, I can't live without them. It’s simply my most played genre on any platform. That being said, I haven’t been that excited for the release of Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido. Not because it didn’t seem fun, far from it. I was more worried that the gameplay would grow old quite quickly. After having played it for a solid number of hours it’s now clear that my worries were unfounded. Boredom never set in as I continuously found myself grasping for new things. That is the staying power of Sushi Striker.
One thing that immediately jumped off the screen was the production value. From the outside looking in, it may seem like this is your typical puzzler experience. But the opening song throws those expectations willingly out of the window and creates something utterly surreal. A Japanese song complete with over the top lyrics engulfed the speakers on my TV, which was fantastic. After that, we learn about how sushi is seen as something mystical that can only be granted by Sushi Sprites. While it brought them joy initially, a war raged out over its sublime taste. The Sushi Struggles, as the event is called, caused the Republic and their sushi loving ways to be outlawed. The Empire blocked all talk, distribution or eating of the dish.
In enters Musashi, a young and upcoming Sushi Striker who is ready to take the world by storm. They go on a journey, together with Sushi Spirit Jinrai, to showcase the wonders that sushi can bring. You start by freeing the Republic, and breaking open the walls of the Empire. From there, you will take on tougher battles to rid the world of the dark. Every chapter opening, and other key moments, will be given shape with animated cutscenes and voice acting. In other places, you will have do it with shouts and text crawls. That isn't as bad as it may seem, considering the quality of the writing. Sushi Striker has some really creative dialogue that I truly appreciate.
The first three chapters take place in the suppressed Republic. It’s here that you join the Sushi Liberation Front to push the evil warriors back to their own territory. The player will experience the areas through a world map. You will hop from level to level, clear them and move on to the next one. These levels are basically the sushi battles, which we will get back to in a bit. While most of these are relatively short, you will find yourself clinging to certain levels for a bit. You are graded on your performance and can partake in three missions per level. It increased my playing time significantly as I couldn't let go until I had an A-rank.
Naturally, this wouldn't be happening if the levels themselves weren't fun to play. In its basic principles, Sushi Striker sees you selecting a sushi plate and building up a stack of that same color. You will slide as much as you can within the seven second window before letting go and finishing up said stack. From my point of view, it required me to constantly make snap judgements and never lose focus. Sometimes you will need to take losses, and accept a small slew of plates. These stacks aren't just for show. With a push on a button, you will fling them at your opponent for maximum damage. Your ultimate goal is bring their hit points down to zero.
With these simple basic rules, there’s a lot you need to keep in mind. By eating in quick succession, you will activate a Sushi Jubilee. If you throw your five stacks at that moment, the damage will increase by 150%. Next to this, it will be more likely that same colored sushi appear more often, allowing you to make some awesome combos. Another important factor is the sushi on the plates itself. If you can manage to eat a lot of the same dish, the attack will increase by another 30%. The final example is how, in a pinch, glowing plates can help you to keep certain streaks going. After seven plates, these beauties can be used to continue building any stack at that moment. It is a powerful thing to pump that tiny bit of extra juice in there.
Movement is yet another important factor in all of this. Just like a fancy restaurant, the sushi moves around on conveyor belts. Each level sees seven lanes, connecting you and your opponent by a shared one. All of these move at different directions and speeds that constantly require you to stay on top of things. You’ll need to analyze the situation, sometimes wait for a moment or two and then deal out the best combo you possibly can. Sushi Striker gives you the option to make tweaks, and you will be dealing with special Lane-Drive Gears that change the way you take on a challenge. Novice players for example might get mileage out of the Little Gear, which moves conveyor belts at an easy going pace.
Outside of the sushi switching, there is a lot more that can be done to influence the outcome of a battle. The Shared Lane might see random items popping up that can recharge your Sushi Jubilee, or even better, the special abilities of Sushi Sprites. These cuddly creatures aren't just for collecting as each of them has an excellent ability that can help in a pinch. Jinrai can activate Sushi Bonanza, a move that allows all the plates to be changed into a singular color. Under the right circumstances, it scores an easily 20 stack combo that can be thrown at your opponent. Not all the abilities are offensive mind you. A good defensive move is Double-Edged Lanes, which will make the opponent's lanes go faster. It will likely screw up a combo or two in the process. The Sushi Sprites constantly add new wrinkles to the gameplay, which is something I can get behind.
Musashi and the selected Sushi Sprites will receive experience by completing stages. For Musashi, a level up means more stamina and a higher base attack strength that can help you survive a lot longer. The Sushi Sprites are way more important though. When you raise their levels, the sushi menu will improve with higher quality sushi. This sushi will have a better base attack strength, ensuring that you can destroy opponents even quicker. The amount of experience that you receive depends on your rank plus the three level based missions that you complete. This will see you having a threshold of plates you can use, completing a stage in a certain time or performing certain combos. It will also net you items that can increase the Sushi Sprites' Skill Levels. The charms will ensure that the effects will continue for a bit longer, getting you that bit closer to victory.
The key to victory is mastering the controls of the game. Sushi Striker allows you play with buttons, touchscreen or even a combo of both. For most of my time, I used button controls with relative ease with moving a cursor to select sushi. You will need to hold the A-button to keep the streak alive, but you learn it by feel after a couple of rounds. The D-Pad sees you activating the Sushi Sprite abilities, which are easy to get a hold of. If you aren't too confident in your skills or are younger, there is auto-select option. This will bring your cursor to the best next place to start a combo, though putting it together is still on you. The touchscreen might feel more natural for some. You can drag your finger along the screen, which can be pretty helpful to stay in full control of your stacks.
Next to single-player level based campaign, there is more for you to do at the Shrine Grove. You can also go to the Puzzle Hut to participate in a Puzzle Match. It’s here that you need to clear all of the plates on the field in five moves. It’s perfect for learning new strategies or finding new ways to approach the field. Another important factor are the multiplayer components. I got to try Split Battle, which is for those who only have one copy of the game. Next to sharing the screen, the types of sushi will be limited. You will also use the same Sushi Spirits and powers to ensure an even playing field. Within Split Battle, you can opt to play with or without items for even a more chaotic experience. In the rounds that I tried it, I had a good time smack talking my friend.
All in all, I walked away happy about Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido. I'm still worried that the game can lose some of its charm towards the end, but right now I'm all in. The gameplay quirks are highly entertaining, regardless of the way you like to play. The atmosphere is fun, the puzzle action is excellent and the addicting elements run deep. Between getting ranks and certain missions, I will be hooked for hours on end. Even if the game ends up being a time sink, I am secretly kind of okay with that.