Hoping to win the record for “Longest time between a game and its sequel” comes Ganryu 2, the follow up to a game originally released on the NEOGEO way back in 1999. Is the style of the game, and the way that it plays out still up to scratch, or have we all been seduced by whizz bang graphics and modern gameplay tropes? Well, there’s only one way to find out, so let’s dive into the world that Storybird Studios have created – a world of samurai, savagery and slicing swords. And some other things beginning with S!
In the first game, our hero, Miyamoto Musashi, defeated the evil Sasaki Kojiro and obviously thought that now he could put his feet up and rest easy, doing whatever people in 17th century Feudal Japan did to chill out. However, just as he is about to crack his first cold one (I guess, there is no evidence of cold ones in Japan at this time) he hears the voice of Kojiro in his head, telling him that although he has beaten his body, his spirit is still around, planning on destroying the world just like in those programs on late night TV in the higher reaches of Freeview. Of course, Musashi isn’t going to stand idly by and let that happen, and so the scene is set for another epic confrontation.
Now, in these reviews I first of all like to look at the presentation of the game that I am casting my beady eye over. What greeted my eye on firing up Ganryu 2 was almost like opening a time capsule and being instantly transported back to the late ‘90s. You see, I’m old enough to remember these type of games from the first time around, and the way the things are introduced here, the story setup and the graphical style is so retro it almost hurts. The graphics are beautifully pixelated and the way the enemies are designed and the stages are constructed is all straight of the 1990’s playbook. As a result they work brilliantly.
The sound is equally good, with period music and swishy swords the only noises to be heard. You see, all the story exposition is done via the medium of static cutscenes with text captions and so it could be said that Ganryu 2 is a bit of a love letter to the source material, and all the better for it.
But, and it’s a big but, what about the way Ganryu 2 plays? Well, the news here is still largely good, but has a little bit less good news mixed in.
Let’s start with the good first of all and the combat is very good indeed, with a variety of ways to off your enemies. Will you use your sword, swishing through enemies and, if timed right, even deflect shurikens being thrown at you? Will you use the throwing knives you find as you adventure through the levels, or even utilise the obligatory dash move that Musashi has – which seems to be lethal – dashing through foes and defeating them? The majority of the enemies in the levels die after only one hit, however you choose to deliver it, and while there are tougher foes and even bosses to contend with, they all succumb to a rapid poking with a sword.
The bosses do require a modicum of strategy, and learning of attack patterns to take down successfully. This can be a painful process though, as the other thing that is firmly in place in Ganryu 2 is the old skool difficulty. You have three lives, and that’s it, and if you lose all the lives, you start the game again from the beginning. Indeed, one of the achievements is tied to completing the game without losing a life; I can’t see that happening any time soon.
The less good news is found in the traversal of the levels – the actual platforming bit. While Musashi has a very handy double jump, and can dash in mid air if required, trying to use his wall jump ability feels a bit too hit and miss. In fact, it’s a bit like rubbing a lucky rabbit’s foot in order to help pull it off smoothly. Another annoyance is the way that the enemies spring into being right in front of you, or even worse, in front or behind, and then proceed to throw projectiles at you. Musashi may be good, but he can only deflect one shuriken at once, and usually ends up getting nailed by one of the enemies.
Other than this, Ganryu 2 is a very solid game – a throwback to a time when games were hard with no apology; if you aren’t up to the task, you don’t progress. There are no options to save progress, no options for difficulty, leaving you to play the way that the devs want it to be played, and I think this approach is pretty refreshing. Sure, the later levels do get a bit cheap, needing you to learn the levels almost to the last pixel to make it through, but I like the challenge.
If you want a hard game to beat then you should well challenge yourself in Ganryu 2.
Ganryu 2 is on the Xbox Store