While Nintendo is no stranger to offering colorful and wacky experiences, it has taken a rather bold step with one of its latest games. Part action-puzzler and part RPG, Sushi Striker: The Way of the Sushido is all about fast-paced puzzle solving in a world that takes sushi more seriously than you could ever imagine. A literal war has been waged over the Japanese dish, sending you on a pilgrimage to discover the spiritual powers it possesses. However, much like the food itself, Sushi Striker is a meal that will only satisfy a niche audience, not the masses.
It’s clear within the first few minutes of the game that its plot is unapologetically wild. Taking place on a series of islands known as the Republic, you follow a young orphan (who can be male or female depending on the player’s choice) named Musashi. It’s revealed from the start that Musashi lost his parents during a large-scale war called the Sushi Struggles, where troops fought over the nation’s sushi supply. The victors of the Sushi Struggles, the Empire, have outlawed sushi, but some warriors, known as Sushi Strikers, still have the ability to conjure the food with the help of ancient creatures. While searching for food for the other orphans in his village, Musashi meets a man named Franklin who, moments before being captured by the Empire, bestows the power of the Sushi Striker on him. With the aid of the ancient Sushi Sprite Jinrai, Musashi sets out on a quest to learn the ways of the Sushido and overthrow the Empire.
The overall story is hard to swallow at first, but once more characters are introduced and background on the war is revealed, it becomes one of the game’s strengths. Sure, the writers clearly had their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, but the plot consistently takes every aspect of the war and the Sushido beliefs seriously. The idea that sushi could ever drive a nation to civil war is absurd, but in this self-contained, albeit shallow, story, it ends up working. With that said, since it’s a game made for younger audiences, the possible subtext about sushi being a metaphor for guns isn’t explored as much as it could have been. The characters, with Musashi being the biggest culprit, typically react to situations in an exaggerated and goofy way, similar to Dragon Ball Z. But again, for the demographic it’s geared toward, Sushi Striker does a solid job of balancing absurdity with light social commentary. Unfortunately, where the balancing act starts to waver is in the gameplay.
As a Sushi Striker, you have access to ancient Sushi Sprite creatures that conjure different kinds of sushi for use in battle. This comes into play through the basics of a match, which has you and up to three Sprites versus an opponent and their creatures at a moving sushi bar. Each contestant has three horizontal lanes that continually move to offer different kinds of sushi, with a shared lane that either player can grab food from. The goal is to link sushi plates of the same color together to form a stack of plates, which can then be thrown at the opponent to deal damage. Once your opponent’s life meter hits zero, the match ends and you earn items and experience points for Musashi and the Sprites involved in the battle. With the ability to hurl plates at one another, it feels like a more action-oriented version of Tetris. In all, gameplay has a short learning curve that quickly becomes something most players won’t have a problem grasping. While the basic battle structure is engaging enough to keep players interested without overwhelming them, the controls are another story.
Since Sushi Striker is available on Nintendo Switch (which is what I played on) and the 3DS family of systems, you are able to use either touch controls or the physical buttons on the console. Sadly, both control options present pretty significant problems. Due to the fast-paced gameplay, it’s tricky linking together matching plates, and while the touch controls offer better precision for picking your first plate, they are terrible for linking. The size of the moving sushi bar isn’t large enough to keep your hand from obstructing your view, forcing you to have to hold the console at an awkward angle to see what’s going on in the battle. On top of that, the lanes move far too quickly for you to comfortably guide your hand along the screen to link plates. As for the physical buttons, you use the left analog stick to move a cursor around the sushi belts to pick a plate, and while holding down on A, you’re able to move the cursor around the belts to connect with the similarly colored plates. This system works much better than the touch controls, but the cursor disappears when the analog stick isn’t being pushed, making it hard to know where it will be when you decide on the plate you want. While annoying, these problems can be overcome with enough practice, but it’s unfortunate to see that the passion and attention that went into the story wasn’t also put into the control options.
Of course, for a lengthy adventure that offers more than 150 different levels, Nintendo and indieszero knew they had to add in more mechanics to spice up matches. While some of the complex features work fairly well, there are a few that make the gameplay downright infuriating. While the main function of each of your Sushi Sprites is to offer sushi for you to use, they all also come equipped with a special ability. You can trigger a Sprite’s attack once you fill a meter by completing combos. There are 30 Sprites in the game, and similar to Pokémon, some of them can evolve into more powerful creatures when reaching a certain level. The abilities stay the same after evolution, but the duration of the attack or strength increases. Some of the Sprite skills are vital, such as your sidekick Jinrai’s ability to turn every plate on your side into the same color, letting you build up a stack of more than 30 plates that can do massive damage to your opponent. There’s even a penguin-like Sprite that can turn your plates into candy that replenish your health when consumed. The role-playing aspect of leveling up Sprites and testing their different skills is what kept me invested for most of my campaign playthrough, but their inclusion also comes at a price. Since enemies can also use Sprites, they can use those helpful abilities against you, and while that’s not strange or unfounded, several of the story missions pit you against unfair odds.
This happens most often with Musashi’s young nemesis, Kojiro, who continually pops up in the game to challenge you to a match with his new Sprites. It’s in these instances that the game chooses to throw a new battle mechanic into the mix through a Sprite attack. Early on, he doesn’t pose much of a threat or challenge, but later encounters with him can seem impossible. For example, at one point he gains an ongoing ability to have a wall in front of him that can only be penetrated by throwing a set number of plate stacks in a specific color order. As a concept for an action puzzle, it’s a creative way to make a battle feel fresh, but in practice, it doesn’t work. Since the sushi conveyor belts move so quickly and the colored plates are all randomly generated each match, there are times when there’s no way to reach the stack limit required to break his wall. On top of that, there are other obstacles introduced later in the game, like wasabi plates that cause Musashi to stutter briefly, and must be avoided to win. Again, due to the random generation of sushi, there will be some matches where the odds aren’t at all in your favor. There were many times that I had to repeatedly quit and retry until the correct colors of plates appeared more often.
Funny enough, once you get past some of the more arduous battles, you might find your next opponent offers no challenge whatsoever. The unbalanced and cheap matches being sprinkled throughout the story makes it feel as if there’s no difficulty arc, which started to worry me as I got closer to the end of the game. I was never sure if I would be able to adequately defeat my next opponent due to a random and unfair mechanic being thrown at me.
That uncertainty of each match encapsulates my overall feelings on Sushi Striker. There were times when I thoroughly enjoyed playing it, especially when I earned a new Sprite and had a chance to play around with its ability. The story was surprisingly fun and full of twists and turns that made me want to push ahead to learn more about Musashi’s journey. But then that enjoyable feeling was dashed away when I had another Kojiro encounter or couldn’t get my cursor to move the way I wanted it to in battle. Players that are able to look at defeating the unfair opponents as a triumph will likely be able to enjoy most of what the game has to offer. For those without the patience to sift through its problems, though, the story and its intriguing characters might only be the saving grace.
Sushi Striker: The Way of the Sushido has all of the trademarks of an inventive Nintendo title, including its odd but bold story, memorable characters, and easy to pick up gameplay. Unfortunately, once you bite into it, the experience isn’t as developed as it could have been. There’s an attempt to expand on the action-puzzler format, and while some of the choices work, there are some ingredients that make the entire meal less than satisfying.
E – Everyone
|Sushi Striker: The Way of the Sushido is available on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS. Primary version reviewed was for Nintendo Switch. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|