Title: Tanuki Justice
Developer: Wonderboy Bobi
Release Date: December 10, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: No Gravity Games
Genre: 2D Action
There aren’t enough ninjas in gaming right now. Sure there have been a few notable ninja-themed releases now and then, but I wouldn’t mind having more. In particular, the style of ninja 2D action games prominent during the ’80s, and ‘90s just don’t get made that often anymore. Perhaps the most notable example is The Messenger (which does the whole ‘80s to ‘90s transition even), but honestly, it’s a subgenre that could use many clones in the indie landscape.
To fill this niche, Tanuki Justice on Nintendo Switch is a release that generally ticks all the right boxes. For fans of classic games like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden, this is one 8-bit homage with the right idea. If that wasn’t enough, it also implements a few bullet hell sensibilities of classic shooters to spice things up.
Starring nature’s original ninja, Tanuki Justice has a pair of raccoon ninja siblings taking on a whole range of other evil animals as they try to stop an evil overlord. It has the classic retro introduction animation. Although there really isn’t much story, the game uses its colorful and vibrant character designs to deliver a memorable presentation.
Back in the day, classic games largely relied upon their imaginative artwork to build lore, and Tanuki Justice has the right idea when presenting its vibrant game world. The pixel art is strong, and although it largely looks like an 8-bit NES title, the color density is rich, and all the large character sprites animate with fluid detail.
Tanuki Justice is a 2D ninja platformer and is not shy about it. Anyone who has ever played Shinobi or Ninja Gaiden will immediately click with what’s offered here. Still, the ninja raccoons are up to the task, being able to fire Shoryuken as a primary attack, and of course, being able to perform a double jump to navigate some tricky platforming sections.
To assist with the shooting, the ninja raccoons can lock into place and fire Shoryuken. The lock-on is done using the ZL and ZR triggers on the Switch controller, but they don’t always register promptly. The trick is to come to a complete halt before you’re able to lock onto a spot, but given the gameplay’s hectic nature, this doesn’t always occur smoothly.
Now while the raccoons are generally agile as per their ninja namesake, for some reason, they’re not able to jump down platforms. Nearly every classic action platformer has allowed players to jump down a platform by pressing down on the d-pad along with the jump button, and so to have this completely omitted is a tad jarring.
The main Shoryuken attack is serviceable enough, but it has a limited range, although power-ups can allow for a more effective attack. Then there is the magic meter, which fills up as you attack enemies or collect blue orbs, which allows for a giant super Shoryuken attack once fully charged. The basic attack is fine, but the limited range can take a bit getting used to, especially for those who grew up playing Shinobi games.
Now, this may sound like nitpicking, but for a precision-based 2D game, the mechanics have to be responsive, as even a minor discrepancy can completely throw off balance. By no means is Tanuki Justice significantly worse off due to these naggings, but they’re noticeable enough to create a learning curve for players. Aside from the gameplay mechanics, there are also occasional performance issues as well, as the game does noticeably slow down when things get too busy on screen.
Minor mechanical naggings aside, the level design in Tanuki Justice shines through. Each of the six main stages (plus a few extras) offers some pretty crazy ninja action. Each stage features many enemies flying from every corner, some tight platforming, and even the occasional set-piece segments. Each stage ends with an epic pattern-based boss battle and even a few mid-bosses here and there.
During the many enemy encounters, Tanuki Justice shows off some of the bullet-hell sensibilities borrowed from shmups. The enemy attack patterns mimic some of the crazy stuff players have seen in games like DoDonPachi or R-Type, but never to the point where it takes over the core ninja platforming action. The bullet hell element is certainly an interesting complement to the classic ninja gameplay, and thankfully Tanuki Justice doesn’t overdo this aspect too much.
Tanuki Justice is a tough game that can be completed in a sitting, as even some of the in-game achievements have speedrun goals. Still, this game is old school tough even on the normal difficulty setting, and so it will take several sessions before anyone can really beat the entire campaign. Thankfully, once a new stage is reached, players can pick up where they left off from the main menu. There are multiple difficulty settings and a few things to unlock, too, adding value to what is already an experience designed with high replay value in mind.
Tanuki Justice is an enjoyable and welcome retro release, one that recaptures the magic of ninja action games like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden while adding some bullet hell shenanigans to provide a different type of challenge. There are some mechanical imperfections and omissions which do hamper the intended fast-paced ninja action. Still, the experience as a whole tends to shine through thanks to its vibrant presentation and strong level design.
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