When you think about focused and demanding 2D action games from yesteryear, especially those of the martial arts variety, the SEGA Mega Drive comes to mind. Games like Shinobi, Shadow Dance, and Strider had players unleash an array of techniques and special attacks within carefully designed stages.
Okinawa Rush pays homage to those classics, having been funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2017 and created by UK-based developer Sokaikan (lead by Steven Miller). It’s now out on multiple platforms including Xbox, and in a year where there has been no real shortage of retro style brawlers on the platform, Okinawa Rush is both welcome and highly entertaining.
At its core, Okinawa Rush is a straight up brawler. If you remember 2019’s Xbox beat ‘em up Fight‘N Rage, then the core combat system here will immediately click. To put it simply, it is fun and deceptively simple on the surface. With two attack buttons and a jump, it feels like a pretty simple affair especially as you mash buttons and see all sorts of cool things happen on the screen. Yet there is a nimble depth to it all which can be rewarding to learn.
The game follows pretty deep 2D fighting game conventions, involving Street Fighter style special move inputs and even a parry system akin to Street Fighter III: Third Strike, not to mention the insane aerial combos straight out of something like BlazBlue. There are special moves too, and these have a trade-off of depleting your health meter similar to what we saw recently in Streets of Rage 4. Finally, there are light RPG elements too as you get to upgrade the stats of the three playable characters. In short, this is a beat ‘em up with a technically proficient fighting system, one that will surprise you with the depth of its intricate mechanics.
The moment you start Okinawa Rush the action takes a turn into absolute and total bedlam, as ninjas of all shapes and colours come at you from every conceivable angle. But they’re no match for your lethal fists. It’s not all punching and kicking though, as you’re also able to pick up weapons to dish out more damage. The ninjas go down easy, there are tougher foes later, and of course monumental boss battles hearkening back to the iconic 16-bit battles from the SEGA Mega Drive days.
So, the title of the game certainly makes it clear about the location, Okinawa, but what about the Rush? Well, that’s to do with the clock on the screen as you’re playing. You see, as you’re beating the tar out of anything that even looks at you funny, there is a constant countdown on the screen, but thankfully you can add more to the clock by activating alters. In other words, you need to brawl in a hurry here, yet with the pace of combat that’s never quite an issue.
Despite the comparisons made to various beat ‘em ups and fighting games earlier, Okinawa Rush is in fact an action platformer. It may have the combat of Streets of Rage, but it’s set within a stage design similar to Strider. Between the frequent punctuations of brawling and a countdown timer, players will need to navigate fairly large stages, and these will involve rescuing civilians, navigating traps, and even looking for switches or meeting other conditions before being able to progress.
While the stages are well thought-out and rewarding to learn and master as you progress through the adventure, it does create a conundrum of almost having a clash of gameplay styles. For the most part, Okinawa Rush succeeds when it matters, but at times it can feel like the overall game design is at odds with itself. The frantic combat set pieces, the most entertaining part of the experience, can almost feel out of place when you’re trying to navigate the stages with a platformer mindset. It’s not a hugely problematic issue, but it is noticeable at times. That said, the process of learning stages and figuring out an efficient rhythm to your offensive flurry is oh so rewarding in the end.
Okinawa has style, and initially the whole CRT retro look is interesting. Yet it is actually a disservice to the graphical finesse of it all. Hitting the pause menu during gameplay and then pressing the action button will bring up the necessary settings, including an option to disable the CRT filter, and once you do, you’re then able to really appreciate the detailed sprite visuals, especially the striking colours and nimble character animations.
Okinawa Rush on Xbox is a welcome retro style romp, one which features an enthralling fighting system set within a challenging action platformer adventure. Some of its many ideas may occasionally clash with each other, but the experience as a whole is far greater than the sum of its various moving parts.
You can grab Okinawa Rush from the Xbox Store