A Gem Made of Fish and Happiness
Sushi Striker is what happens when you let the imagination run wild. It’s the kind of game you’d never believe was real, like your friend made it up and in your mind you’re going “yeah, that sounds really good, but it’ll never get made.” It’s what Nintendo does best. Through a collaboration with indieszero (Electroplankton, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy), they’ve engaged in some smart counterprogramming. With the 3DS burrowing towards its end, and the Switch bulking up its library with ports and sequels, Sushi Striker breaks through to deliver a fresh, tasty experience. It’s not the kind of thing people would expect: a puzzle-RPG with elements lifted from action games and anime alike. But, as with many other Nintendo games, it’s the kind of game I didn’t know I wanted, and now that it’s here, I want everyone to experience how great it is.
Set in a world where sushi is the prime force of good and evil, Musashi, a young girl (or boy, you get to choose), embarks on a quest to spread her love of sushi to the masses, and stop the nefarious Empire from hoarding it for themselves. To do so, she pairs up with Sushi Sprites, mysterious beings who provide the world’s sushi, to fight back against the Empire in one-on-battles where combatants eat sushi and throw stacks of like-colored plates at each other.
Though it sounds ridiculous, the idea absolutely works in practice. Both fighters are placed in front of conveyor belts, where sushi whizzes by on plates. Players link up like-colored plates as they pass by with the stylus, trying to get as many as possible in seven seconds. When successful, the linked plates form into a stack, and the sushi gets gulped down quickly. The player attacks the opponent by flinging the stack at them, with bonus points available for throwing multiple stacks of the same color. It may sound abstract without sitting down in front of it, but the idea is there: throw plates and reduce the enemy’s HP to zero before yours is depleted in turn.
The biggest help you’ll find is from your Sushi Sprite friends. You can equip up to three at a time to utilize their special powers in a match. Their powers range from extending the amount of time you can link together plates, to turning sushi plates into sweets to recover health, to giving yourself temporary shields against attacks. There are also items, called Gears, that can help you by controlling how fast your conveyor belts move. These are especially great for people who might have issues keeping up with the game’s speed. Though I personally went for a faster gear, the fact that the option is there really helps open up the game, making it playable to a wider variety of people.
Variety and flexibility are tenants of the game’s overall philosophy. If you just want to blast through the story, you can do that as long as you keep winning matches. However, each match has a grade attached to it based on your score, as well as several objectives to complete, should you ever feel like coming back to that match again. The objectives aren’t necessary to get the best score, and can be beaten individually if you wish. Paying attention to these parts of the game can net you access to challenging levels and rare Sushi Sprites, and can help you earn in-game achievements.
Going for this extra content may feel a bit like grinding, but honestly, as far as RPGs go, Sushi Striker makes the grinding manageable with its fast-paced battles and constant rewards for fighting matches over and over again. There’s something really satisfying about crushing an opponent who once gave you trouble, while earning the best rank and all of the objectives in one fell swoop.
Talking about grinding brings up something important to note, too. This isn’t something like Puzzle Quest, where you have a puzzle game (Bejeweled) with some light RPG elements thrown on top as a skin. Sushi Striker is a full-blown RPG. There are multiple leveling systems for both Musashi and each individual Sprite. Each Sprite can also evolve over time if you raise their level high enough. Plus, it’s crucial to strategize which Sprites will be on your team for two reasons. The first is that certain Sprite powers are necessary to fulfill objectives in certain matches. The second, and arguably more important reason, is that the collective defense of your entire team combines with Musashi’s stamina in order to determine her max HP.
Though this may seem like a deterrent from letting you choose a team of three Sprites at the beginning of the game and sticking with them, it acts as a crucial measure to insure you’re using the best team possible. This makes fighting online, when you can choose your favorite team, all the better because it challenges you to be familiar with what Sprite powers compliment your style of play. That is, if you can find opponents, anyway. It took me several days before I was able to lock in a match, and even then, I can still find only one opponent at a time.
As the 3DS version has no crossplay with the Switch version, I can only speak to my experience on the older handheld. That said, I see the potential in Sushi Striker’s online. If enough people gravitate toward it, I can see a great community unfolding, where those leaderboards will mean something, and the game can get its due.
When it comes down to platform preference, there is no easy winner. The 3DS version is cheaper and has the most precise stylus controls, but playing that one means missing out on HD graphics and a more robust online community. Meanwhile, going for the Switch version means having to rely on your finger to do the job of a stylus, or using traditional button controls. The latter option is also available on 3DS, but I did not see the point in sticking with it for long, when the game is so clearly designed with the stylus in mind.
Overall, playing Sushi Striker is like a wonderful fever dream. Everything is cute and colorful, and more than a bit zany and over-dramatic. While the story more than gets the job done, what I actually keep coming back to are the other characters you meet along the way. There’s Kojiro, Musashi’s childhood bully, who gets lured into working for the Empire for power and respect, but ends up humiliated and in tears whenever he loses against her, which is often. Then, there’s Musashi herself. She’s reminiscent of the best of shonen anime protagonists. Her attitude is upbeat and positive. She knows when to forgive her enemies, and when to accept that sometimes things are beyond her control. Though she has her sad moments, she never lets them stop her. Her goal is is also noble and well-intentioned. Spreading sushi to the world may not seem like the most achievable goal, but for her, it’s enough. Everything else is a consequence of that decision.
There is an incredible gem of a game here, folks. It takes the puzzle genre in a new direction, and playing it reminds me of some of the other weird and wonderful games Nintendo put their name on, like Elite Beat Agents and Chibi-Robo. I want it to sell well. I want a sequel. I want Musashi to get a place on the Smash roster. And while it seems unlikely right now that all of this will happen, perhaps some of it is possible if the game is given a chance. If you check it out yourself, I promise it’ll be more than worth your time.
If you’re looking to contact me, the author, you can do so via Twitter, or by shooting me an email at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com if you so wish. This review was conducted using a 3DS retail copy that I purchased. It is also physically available on Switch, and digitally on both platforms.