Think about the most delicious food you’ve ever eaten. After savoring your meal, was your gut reaction… to throw your empty plate at the person across from you? This is how every single character in Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido operates. Co-developed by Nintendo and indieszero, known for fan-beloved games like NES Remix, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and Retro Game Challenge, Sushi Striker is a fast-paced puzzle game with surprising depth.
Savor your appetite with my Video Review!
You play as a young boy or girl named Musashi, who lost his parents during a great sushi war. Did I mention the plot was ridiculous? Musashi grows to hate sushi, but after actually eating a roll, suddenly wishes to share this newfound taste with the world. This means inevitably facing the Empire, who has strictly forbidden all talk of sushi. Most puzzle games have a throwaway story, but Sushi Striker embraces it with over-the-top characters, flowery worldbuilding, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue about how noble it is to fight for sushi. I was motivated to see how this humorous tale would develop.
The quality presentation sells the story, from vocal theme songs to fully voiced anime cutscenes, which actually differ based on Musashi’s gender. The charming character designs and fast-paced action battle themes scream anime. My minor audio gripes were that some voices were too soft, and that outside of cutscenes, characters only utter the first few words of dialogue out loud before abruptly stopping midsentence.
Sushi Striker’s gameplay is just as bizarre as the story. You and an opponent face off, and between you are seven sushi conveyor belts, three per player and a shared lane. Your goal is to link together as many sushi plates of the same color as possible, which is easier said than done as the food is constantly moving. Your character immediately eats the linked sushi and leaves behind a stack of empty plates, which you then must throw at your opponent to damage them. Your strength depends on factors like plate color and sushi quality. If you successively throw stacks of the same color, you get multiplier bonuses. Whoever completely drains their opponent’s HP first wins. The frenetic pace makes an otherwise typical match-3 game more exhilarating, and it’s a satisfying rush to build tall plate stacks and unleash them rapid fire.
These food fights shine as more mechanics are cleverly thrown into the mix. For instance, capsule items like bombs that deal damage and stopwatches that freeze foes can turn the tide. Thematic gimmicks also add flavor, such as spicy wasabi that leaves your character gasping for breath and thin paper plates that reduce damage. That said, the game can get overwhelming at times, and the brisk speed may prevent you from noticing every little element. Plus, since same color plates can have different types of sushi, it’s possible to get thrown off. Thankfully, there is a safeguard: when you choose your first plate, differently colored plates automatically dim, allowing you to find appropriate links.
The most game-changing elements are the Sushi Sprites, 100 creatures that bestow special powers, like flooding the belt with healing desserts or spawning only plates of one color. You can set three different teams of three sprites, and finding synergistic combinations of abilities is a well-implemented strategic endeavor. I loved setting up devastating ability combos for amazing comeback victories and was just as impressed whenever my opponent cleverly utilized new powers. Sushi Sprites also foster an addictive catch ‘em all mentality. Just like Pokemon, they level up after every battle and evolve. Additionally, your character can grow stronger and equip helpful items, lending a strong RPG dynamic.
However, the execution has its wrinkles. Due to the random nature of sushi plates, some wins are decided by luck as opposed to skill. For most matches, you can only hope that matching color plates pass by and that your opponent somehow doesn’t achieve crazy combos. The chance factor is more frustrating due to the 1v1 nature, and it becomes exponentially infuriating during matches with special conditions. For example, maybe the opponent won’t take damage unless you stack eight or more plates. No matter your proficiency, the odds aren’t always in your favor.
The two control schemes, traditional buttons and the Nintendo Switch’s touch screen, are hit or miss as well. Although the game is intended for touch screen controls, by which you slide your finger to link plates, it can be difficult to see the display with your hand blocking it. I also had to be more precise when touching the small plates. Comparatively, when using button controls, you can simply hold down a button, rotate the control stick wildly, and still make rapid links. Although it’s much harder to select your starting plate, the issue is easily resolved thanks to an option that auto-selects them for you. The downside is gameplay can easily devolve into button mashing, a far cry from its intended puzzle nature.
Sushi Striker is a surprisingly meaty game with an eight to ten hour story and well over 100 levels, not including bonus areas. The catch is that at least half of those levels feel redundant, with numerous opponents reusing similar Sushi Sprites. Some of the more difficult levels, like a timed match against a powerful machine or one where you must rely on using capsule items for damage, were more memorable and broke up the tedious fodder. But there’s a focus on raw quantity over quality. At least completionists will have a lot on their plate, since each level has its own challenge stars, and you can replay levels with reduced health for higher scores and grades.
Rounding out the game are a puzzle mode and multiplayer, which supports both local and online. The former is a race against a strict clock to make matches, which due to luck, is more frustrating than fun. In local multiplayer, you can use two Switch tablets or share one, although this option awkwardly places one player in the back instead of conveniently splitting the screen. Online matches ran smoothly, and provided you can find opponents, it’s a great avenue to improve your game.
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is a deliciously clever approach to the match-3 genre that may satiate puzzle lovers’ tastes. The game’s meaty content and RPG mechanics are filling, but its long stretches of stagnant levels amount to a bunch of tasty appetizers as opposed to a full course feast. Altogether, it won’t be the highlight of everyone’s menu, as it costs almost as much as a full-priced Switch game. Nevertheless, if you crave a unique 1v1 puzzler, Sushi Striker is a delectable game backed up by a scrumptious story.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was written for DarkStation in June 2018.