Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is one of those games that you could easily pass over for more familiar territory. E3 didn’t do it any favors, either, as it was released just as all the big announcements for games like Last of Us Part Two and Shadow of the Tomb Raider were all over the games media world. It’s an odd little game that packs quite a few surprises though, and once we took that first bite into its world, we were hooked for life. Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is a surprisingly deep, incredibly fun and appropriately humorous, with plenty of levels to sink your teeth into and a multitude of abilities that let you adjust for your own playstyle.
The game starts simply, if oddly. Two world powers are at war: the Republic and the Empire. You are an orphan of the Republic whose parents died in the struggle for control of the world’s sushi after all of the fish disappeared from the ocean. The Republic has no sushi at all, and is plagued by hunger, while the Empire has hoarded it all and decided who can have access to it and who can’t. Before long, an interloper appears to introduce you to the sacred joy of sushi, and introduce you to the magical spirit creature sushi sprites who create it. Once your little orphan girl or boy gets a taste, there’s no going back. In fact, it turns out that your sushi eating brings so much joy to the sprites that they join up with you in an effort to bring sushi back to the world, since the mean ol’ Empire down the road is hogging it all and deciding who can have it and who can’t. It’s a supremely strange, sometimes disconcerting story, but told with more than a little humor, including at the game’s own expense. It’s also artfully told in a sort of Saturday morning cartoon-meets-anime style that I really enjoyed, with enough intrigue to keep me coming back for more.
The meat of the gameplay is this: eat sushi as quickly as possible, link plates of the same color, and fling those plates at your enemies’ sushi-hoardin’ heads. It’s reminiscent of games like Puzzle Fighter or even Bejeweled. Sushi is propelled to you via conveyor belt, and you link plates of the same color, and throw those plates until you wipe out whatever strange bad guy you’ve come up against this time. You’ll fight everything from an old Parrothead type who insists on over wasabi-ing everything and can stop you in your tracks, to muscley dopes, or evil cat ladies who insist on being called “pwincess” by their minions.
The controls are simple–you can play docked and handheld using Joy-Con, Pro Controllers or touchscreen controls, which are available in handheld mode. In this particular case, the Pro Controller was not necessarily the best option, though it is perfectly viable. The problem comes in the quick pace of the game. Using a controller, you’ll need to hover over the plate color you want to start your link with, hold A, and then use the joystick to navigate rows of conveyor belts and add to your plate stack (thus adding to your damage). The problem is that using a controller actually lessens your precision in choosing your initial plate. This can be mitigated, and honestly, if you choose a different color than intended, you can usually still make a link with that with no problems, but in certain instances where bosses are concerned, it can makes things more difficult. Via handheld touch controls you’ll simply need to poke that plate and drag your finger around the screen to the others of its same color. Sushi Striker feels like it was made for touch controls.
As you progress, you’ll start meeting other sushi sprites. Each sprite has its own special power, defense level, and different types of sushi that it serves. This is a vital part of the gameplay, and as you progress, you’ll need to change up your sprites every so often to be successful in different types of challenges. The sprite’s special powers are activated based on your sushi-eating prowess in the heat of battle, and when you’ve filled up the gauge by chowing down enough, one tap of the D-pad (or touch screen) will set it off. Sprites have all sorts of powers, from the ability to change all plates to one color (Sushi Bonanza) to things like Sweets Bonanza that set up your lane with mochi, gelatin treats and fruits that you can eat to restore hit points, offensive attacks like giant chopstick strikes or electrically charged plates, and even defensives like shields and stealth.
For the most part, at least at the outset, all these things are pretty well explained, and there’s a not so secret “Secret Scroll” that you can refer back to that you can refer back to. Still, some things aren’t as well explained, like the “awakening” process for your sushi sprites and what that really means–that filling your attack gauges will take longer, but the attacks will be more powerful. Though much of the gameplay is the same from level to level, Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido does a great job of keeping it fresh by introducing new problems to solve. Some fights include capsules which you can grab off the conveyor belts after linking a certain number of plates. These capsules introduce new gameplay elements, sort of like power-ups. There’s also other items to be gathered. Rewards for stages include items to level up your sprites, restore some of your health or improve the quality of sushi on your belts. You’ll also get different gears for the conveyor belts, which can slow lanes down or speed them up, or some combination thereof.
There are several areas to unlock, including a hub world that contains the access points to the game’s arena online play mode, a place to pick up a few “deliveries” you find the passwords for on the Sushi Striker website, play a puzzle mode against a Sushi-bot, or throw sushi parties that can upgrade your sprite’s abilities. Even after you’ve moved on from an area though, there’s reasons to come back. You can try for a better grade, or complete each level’s three star challenges (things like “eat under 180 plates and win”) which later unlock secret areas which contain challenge levels and rare sprites. You can also try for certain achievements, called “Triumphs” that will help increase your Striker rank.\
Difficulty in Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido ramps up fairly appropriately. In the beginning, it’ll be easy to get those A or even S rankings. As you go along though, things get tougher, and more strategy is required. You’ll need to see what sprites your opponent is bringing into battle and figure out how to combat them. This is especially true with boss battles, which can be pretty punishing. Certain bosses can defeat you in one powerful hit if you don’t defeat them within the time limit, and others require you to get good at combos in order to pass through their shield. By the time you get to the final levels, it will definitely be a challenge. It never feels unfair, but it required some work for me to finally get good enough to defeat them.
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido was a pleasant surprise for me. I thought of it going in as a simple puzzler that’d give me a few fun hours—little more than a particularly good mobile game would. What I found was a silly, smart game that reminded me of all of my childhood favorites—Puzzle Fighter, Tetris, Bubble Bobble itself. I didn’t expect all of the little touches—role-playing game elements, a story that, while weird as hell, was entertaining, and the need to truly strategize in later levels to be successful–I certainly didn’t expect to become as hooked on the game as I was or am now. In my book, it’s a game that should easily be a part of your permanent collection, and it’s an instant classic for me.
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is available now on Nintendo Switch.