Ganryu 2 Review – The Stone and the Sword

    Title: Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojiro
    Developer: Storybird Studio
    Release Date: April 22, 2022
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Just For Games, PixelHeart
    Genre: Arcade Action

The original Ganryu was a pretty late release for the NEOGEO platform and not a classic by any stretch. Sure, it had some cool play mechanics, but the level design was vague and the various moving parts of the game felt loosely connected. Almost two decades later, we get a brand new sequel in Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojiro, and in an age where there is no shortage of ninja action platformers, this is one game that shows everyone how it’s done.

While the original Ganryu felt like a proof of concept, the new game feels fully realized in its execution in that its ideas blend seamlessly into the game design. Perhaps the reason why the sequel works out so well is that it borrows a lot from classic ninja action games, in particular SEGA’s legendary Shinobi franchise. Several enemies and set pieces are heavily influenced by iconic titles like Shinobi III, but rest assured, this is far from being just an imitation. Ganryu 2 is more of a heartfelt homage to a genre that feels old school, and yet also polished as a modern 2D action game.

Like any good ninja game from the ’90s, the game has its initial premise in feudal Japan. It has some semblance of historical accuracy… until things take a turn into sci-fi with robots and aliens. It’s a weird B-movie premise for sure, but it’s hard not to enjoy the wild presentation and silly character designs.

Although the game isn’t built on NEOGEO hardware like its predecessor, the 2D graphical presentation still sports the detailed pixelated quality you would expect from yesteryear. With carefully hand-drawn sprites and dynamic and colorful backgrounds, this is a really nice game to look at, especially when everything animates so smoothly.

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What immediately clicks about the experience are the mechanics and controls. There have been several similar indie games in the genre in recent years, but you’d be hard-pressed to find gameplay that feels as blisteringly fast and responsive as it does in Ganryu 2.

Our hero is as versatile as a ninja can get, with a range of aerial maneuvers and dashes, both close and long-range combat techniques executed with impact, and even screen-filling magic spells. In short, players have all the tools they need to navigate whatever challenges the game may throw at them, whether they are navigating tight platforming sections or powering through any of the intense combat encounters.

The action here is non-stop, and while it is exhilarating to rush into everything, the key to success is ninja-like patience. You often need to respond with razor precision, but it helps to be a little reactive rather than proactive. This is especially the case with the boss battles, where a careful reading of their attack patterns can go a long way to make the seemingly impossible suddenly become easy. There’s a magic meter too, but don’t get too comfortable with it, as it can take forever for the meter to fill up. You’re best off leaving those attacks for the end of stage boss, alongside the handy healing spell.

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Ganryu 2 follows genre conventions of the past, but by modern gaming standards, this is probably going to be a tough game for many. While the game will save your progress between stages, with each completed stage being added to a select mode, the stages themselves are each split into acts with mid and main bosses.

On your first way through, these acts can feel pretty long. Lives are limited, and while checkpoints are placed conveniently, losing all your lives leads to a ‘game over,’ which means starting all over from the first act of the stage. This can feel frustrating at first, but this deliberate penalty is part of what makes the design and replay value of the game so endearing.

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This is a game about gradual growth in player skill, and it feels adequately rewarding too. You’ll definitely need to replay acts and boss battles several times, but thankfully the growth happens quickly and organically. You can’t help but feel compelled to try and try again, as you feel like you’re improving each time. It also helps how the game just feels so good to play, with the level design always mixing things up with interesting platforming layouts, along with other action set pieces.

The game doesn’t waste your time with frustratingly imposed difficulty, and thanks to excellent controls and versatile play mechanics, in no time you’ll be able to conquer an entire stage without losing a single life. It’s the journey to getting there that makes Ganryu 2 the perfect homage to ninja action games of yesteryear.

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Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojiro is a game with instant playability and one that you can easily jump right into with smooth and addictive gameplay. There’s a sense of rewarding challenge and progression to the game that’ll make you want to keep revisiting over and over. No doubt this game is old-school tough, but the journey to mastering the levels and nailing that perfect rhythm and flow is what perfectly captures the unique magic of this timeless 2D gaming genre.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!

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