12/7/2022 0 Comments
Jitsu Squad Review
Jitsu Squad ASSEMBLE! An immensely powerful artifact called the Kusanagi stone can grant untold power to the person who possesses it. Now procured by evil floating head and hands baddie Origami, Master Ramen sends his four disciples to thwart his plans and take it back. The Jitsu Squad is made up of four unusual anthropomorphic characters: bunny kunoichi Baby O’Hara, burly Warthog Aros Helgason, tighty-whitey rockin’ frog monk Jazz, and the raccoon ninja Hero Yamagawa. Together, they will fight across eight colorful planets until the final showdown! Keeping it simple is always a solid plan when creating beat ‘em ups in this day and age. Sometimes games tend to overcomplicate things when they try to reinvent the genre, while other developers choose to go for a more pure 90s experience and try to create an homage to one of the most longstanding genres around. Jitsu Squad finds itself falling somewhere in between those two scenarios.
First off: the animation is stunning. Jitsu Squad is a pleasure to look at, from its smooth animation to bright and eye-poppingly colorful visuals. The special effects are spectacular as well, but I have to say that they can be distracting once in a while, making it easy to lose track of your character in the flashy chaos. The soundtrack composed and arranged by Sebastian Romero is also really well done. It contains the usual guitar-heavy high-octane tracks that you would expect from this type of game but is not afraid to mix it up, like the jazzy beats that accompany you throughout the cityscapes of the Neon Boulevard level. Throw in the occasional vocals from Crush 40’s Johnny Gioeli, whom you may recognize from some of the Sonic franchise's iconic soundtracks and it will have you headbanging while beating on the heads of your enemies. So audio-wise and visually speaking: Jitsu Squad is top-notch and quite modern while managing to hold on to a cartoonish retro vibe.
The game is not too long. There are eight planets total, each one serving as a level. They contain fun and unique enemies, with the ninja bad guys from the first planet mixed in to fill out the roster, as those little buggers have the power to teleport between planets since they are the henchman of Origiami. The type of bad guys tie into the theme of the planet, so for example, the city-themed Neon Boulevard contains big-headed Yakuza mobsters, with a smattering of police speeding back and forth across the screen in their squad cars. If you have a keen eye, you may even see a few Fight’N Rage character easter eggs in the background. They won’t be the only game-centric eggs you’ll see either, but I won’t spoil the surprise. I have to confess that I didn’t always recognize the references regarding the Youtubers however. Should you feel like replaying a level, it’s as simple as loading up your game and hitting the planet select screen.
The action is good but it could have been better. I guess you could say I was not a fan of how certain mechanics were handled. You get a basic attack and can mash the button to string together a combo. Standard beat ‘em up fare: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you want to hit them with an alternative combo, you need to leave a delay between button presses, attacking once your character flashes. Combat should be fast and frantic but this feels counterintuitive to that, leaving the gameplay feeling sluggish. Plus with all the enemies trying to gank you, the delay often leads to your attack getting interrupted. Once I gave up on using those goofy delayed combos I started to have a good time. Double-tapping the directional pad for a quick dash and mastering the parry system is your best defense and thankfully, the parrying is lightning fast. Quickly dashing, attacking, and parrying hordes of enemies becomes a zen-like experience; at least it did for me. I love when I can get into the zone and focus on nothing but handling each enemy as they come. A little way into the game you get to find secondary weapons unique to each character. These are assigned to the triangle button and can usually be slipped into your regular combos to extend them. They have a limited amount of uses but can be handy in certain situations, depending on their added special effects. A big gripe I have is how your grapple button is the same button used for picking up health items. Trying to pick up a much-needed health item while a mob of baddies is grouped around it is stressful for no reason.
My other issue is needing to collect scrolls to unlock new moves. Each character has a personal list of special moves to unlock, although they more or less share the same functions, albeit stylized to each one. Some are really powerful skills like the screen-clearing summon and the Fury mode, which temporarily makes you invincible and boosts your attack power. It makes sense to lock those up for later in the game. What I didn’t like was that the brunt of the locked moves are chains, allowing you to string together combos and keep the action going at a fast pace. In my opinion, these should have been available from the start. The game isn’t that long and I was almost at the final level by the time all my skills were unlocked. This also means that you’ll be at a disadvantage if you want to try out one of the other Jitsu Squad members later in the game, as you will need to unlock their skills as well.
The icing on the proverbial cake that is in fact not cake but actually levels is the bosses. These big, burly, buttcakes have beef with the Jitsu Squad and they are more than willing to resort to dirty tactics. Aside from their arsenal of special moves and attack patterns, they can gain temporary invincibility similar to your own Fury Mode. Dealing damage to them increases their limit break meter and once it’s full, they don their special armor and run around the screen launching devastating attacks; all while being impervious to all damage. The only strategy at this point is to run around dodging and parrying until it runs out. Add the awesome boss music and waves of disposable minions and the boss fights are (almost) always spectacular.
One thing that hurts Jitsu Squad is the limited replayability. To begin with, there are only two modes: Story and Training. Training Mode is basic. You get to practice your moves against an enemy AI that never dies but honestly, there is no real reason to practice. The moves aren’t that complicated and can be easily worked out during normal gameplay. Once you beat the Story Mode, you unlock Tag Team Mode. I honestly think that this is how the game should have originally been. You can assign characters to each local player or you can play it by yourself but with all four characters, which is what I did. You can switch between each character without restriction (assuming they still have health) and it was a fun way to play with each of the unique characters as you please, without needing to go back to the main menu and start the level over. As fun as Tag Team Mode was, it just didn’t grant me the impetus to replay the entire game over again. One last disappointment about Jitsu Squad was that despite its overall modernity, there is no online play, only local co-op. I feel like Jitsu Squad could greatly benefit from a drop-in, drop-out style of online multiplayer but I guess we’ll never know.
Overall, Jitsu Squad is a fun beat ‘em up that caters to both a modern and retro audience, just don’t expect to get that much mileage out of it. I can see myself picking it up again in the future or when I have some friends over, but not anytime soon.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7.5/10
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