Some things in life are so innately delightful that I just can’t spend enough time thinking about them. Leaf blowers! Tennis ball lobbers! The little motorised food lanes you get at sushi restaurants. This last one, gloriously, has been the key inspiration for Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, a puzzle-battler that it’s been hard to ignore since its hectic singalong trailer erupted onto Youtube a while back. I’m playing through the game’s opening chapters right now – we’ll have a review up soonish – and the whole thing is a treat. Sushi Striker does sushi proud, certainly, but it also does those motorised food lanes sushi likes to live on proud too. Hooray!
There is, inevitably, a story, and it’s suitably goofy. The empire, right? They want all the sushi for themselves. The republic? They want sushi for everyone. Cue a delicious war, which the empire win and which appears to have claimed the parents of Musashi, Sushi Striker’s protagonist. No matter! Because it turns out that Musashi is a natural with sushi striking – the fine and ancient art of eating sushi and then lobbing the plates at someone you don’t care for. Pretty soon Musashi has a sushi sprite, which is a little creature cut from Pokemon cloth, to take into battle with them and things start to get gloriously nutty.
The game unfolds as a series of battles, and the basics initially seem a little too simple for their own good. Three lanes of plates zip past you and it’s your job to link plates of the same colour together to then chuck at your enemy. All the while, they’re doing the same thing.
It’s hectic and entertaining, but it feels a little bit straightforward. Sushi Striker, though, is going to take this template and twist it in fascinating directions, and it starts with the colours of the plates themselves.
Key to early success are combos: chain a group of green plates together and chuck it, and then follow it up with another chain of plates of the same colour to do extra damage. (There is a lane-speed mechanic to help with this that takes some getting used to.) But it’s already starting to go deeper, because the different colour plates do different levels of damage, and the more you chain – you have seven seconds to build the stack as high as you can – the more you can pile the damage on top of that.
Next up come special powers that lurk within the sushi sprites you take into battle. One might give you an electrical attack. Another might speed up your enemy’s food lanes. My favourites so far are one that turns my own lanes into deserts, which I can jab away at to regain health, and another that gives me a run of identically-coloured plates so I can build up a huge stack all at once.
Even here there are depths. As you collect sprites along the course of the adventure you’ll discover that they can level up between battles – as does Musashi – and there’s already a hint that some form of evolution is on the cards. Then there are special foods which, if you eat enough of them, may grant their own additional powers. Get proficient with salmon, for example, and you get an extra second to make a chain when you’re low on health.
Onwards and onwards it goes, each battle chucking in a new wrinkle, whether it’s an enemy that comes with a new sprite to get your head around or capsule toys that appear on the lanes and can only be unlocked once you’ve hit a certain size of plate-chain. All of this is tied together through a story that gets stranger and stranger as you travel further and further.
One word of caution, I think. Sushi Striker is clearly made for the precision of a stylus, and with its dual screens to give equal space to both you and your enemy, the 3DS feels like the platform of choice here. I’m playing on a Switch, and while it’s still a joy, the Switch’s touchscreen is not as satisfying to use as the 3DS’, and the option to use the thumbstick and face buttons to control the game robs the whole thing of some of its immediacy for me.
Maybe I just need to give the controls more time. For now, there’s a campaign of playful, energetic battles stretching into the distance, a bizarre story of underdog brilliance to savour, and back on the start screen the prospect of that magnificent theme song. If you were worried that 2018 wasn’t going to deliver a truly memorable plate-chucking puzzle-battler, you can relax, I reckon.