Overview – developed by Tanuki Creative Stuido and published by ININ Games, Jitsu Squad is a fast paced 2D action brawler with a classic arcade gameplay style. As the members of the Jitsu Squad, take on the forces of evil and save the world, all while doing it in style. This title is now available on all console platforms, with links to each version of the game available at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound for providing the copy of Jitsu Squad that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts an opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story. I will be covering only the basic core elements of the game, avoiding any of the surprises and spoiling the secrets of this title.
Story – Containing the soul of a powerful demon, the legendary Kusanagi Stone can grand godly powers to those who awaken it but has remained hidden over the centuries. Now, the wicked sorcerer Origami, destroyer of worlds and lord of darkness, has summoned ancient warriors to find the stone for him, cursing their souls and turning them into animals in the process. Luckily, a mysterious monk called Ramen manages to save four warrior souls from Origami’s call and together they are the Jitsu Squad.
Gameplay – Jitsu Squad is a fast paced, action brawler with traditional beat ‘em up and action RPG mechanics. These systems combine together with the frantic combat and chaotic action that takes place, as the player is surrounded by enemies on all sides. The player can take on the enemies that threaten the safety of the universe alone, or with three other players in local co-op or using two (or more) characters in the tag-team mode (also in local co-op).
The action takes place across several worlds, made up of multiple areas with enemies swarming the player in battle. Each of the action stages pits the player against wave after wave of enemies, with destructible objects, treasures to collect and health pick-ups. The player has limited lives when playing solo, with a single life per character in tag team mode, which makes this title vastly different from other action brawlers.
During the stages the threats increase over time, with stronger enemies and mini boss level threats, as well as end of stage battles. There is a variety of enemies that appear in battle, with each planet having their own theme and creatures tied to it. These include a city planet with Yakuza inspired enemies, a grave yard zone with zombies and even a pirate themed world. All of these areas will also feature the Oni/goblin enemies from the starting stage as the most common combatants.
When a world has been cleared, the player can move onto another or return to a previously cleared stage and replay it. However, there is no real incentive to return to stages, aside from grinding to collect scrolls to power up the characters that are in use (explained further below). At set points during the game, there are cutscenes that play out with pop culture references, plot development and some voice acting to tie it together.
The members of the Jitsu Squad each have their own unique attacks, skills and traits that are based on themes connected to each character. The characters all have their own strengths and weaknesses, making them different from eachother and adding variety to the in game action. Here are the profiles for each of the members of the Jitsu Squad;
- HERO YAMAGIWA: The Shinobi – Transformed into a Tanuki and armed with the powerful Sakura Katana, Hero is a Shinobi and Ninpo Master. When he was young, his father’s village was destroyed. Hero was the only survivor and was rescued by a monk who taught him the “Art of Ryushido”. He has sworn to avenge the death of his father and his clan.
- BABY O HARA: The Vengeful Cyber Ninja – Baby ‘O Hara is a true fighting machine and the fastest of the Jitsu Squad, flashing across the battlefield in the shape of a rabbit! She joined this team of skilled warriors hoping to avenge the death of her beloved sister. Baby is armed with her two Usagi Kunai and an Umbrella.
- JAZZ AMUN: The Magic Kung-Fu Master – Jazz was one of the royal guards of the Black Lotus, a group of Holy Priests who served Sapphire, the mysterious god. Jazz is a fast and skilful warrior, with a serious attitude. He uses his giant golden pipe called “the Ishtar” and the “Flame of Amun” in combat. Transformed into a frog, he has a double jump ability that gives him enormous air combo potential.
- AROS HELGASON: The Dragon Slayer – Piece of massive muscle, Aros Helgason is a legendary dragon slayer Viking armed with a huge sword called Balder. Strongest of the Jitsu Squad, his right arm was once bitten off by a fierce dragon and was replaced with an indestructible magic metal arm. The arm can be used as a shield and is extremely powerful in close combat. Takes the shape of a massive warthog.
In battle the characters can use the same basic skills, with a dash, jump and chain/combo attacks to name but a few. As the game progresses, the characters can level up by collecting scrolls and when thresholds are met, new upgrades will be unlocked. These include new abilities, special attacks and upgrades that make the chaotic battles even wilder. Alongside the level upgrades, there are support characters that can be found and the player can collect special character specific weapons to use.
These weapons are usable as long as the player has energy in their weapon meter, which is drained with each use. The weapons also have their own special attacks, power levels and can turn the tide of battle quickly in the players favor. As well as the special weapon bar, there is also the Fury Meter which is filled by taking damage in battle. When this meter reaches a set limit, special attacks can be used which will cause massive full screen attacks that will devastate enemies.
The last ability that characters have access to is the Fury Transformation, a special super powered mode where the player can decimate their foes with ultimate power. This powered up mode can be used until the Fury Meter runs out, with all stats increased for a limited time. The chain attacks, special abilities and super attacks add to the chaotic action that unfolds during battles, increasing further with additional players being added to the mix.
Finally, I want to discuss the accessibility options and features that have been added to this game. There are several features to make the game a little easier for players to get into it, including health bars for enemies, character indicators and the ability to reduce on screen effects. There is also an option unlock all character abilities early, which can allow players that may not otherwise be able to get through the game to access all the features.
Now with the gameplay covered, I want to move onto the other aspects of this release, starting with the controls.
Controls – the controls for this title are laid out well, making for a fun and reactive experience with zero input lag during play. The inputs are set to allow all actions to be accessed quickly, in a way that lets chain attacks and tag combos to be implemented quickly. This title plays very well regardless of the controller that is used, which include the Sega Saturn controller from Retro Bit or arcade sticks from Hori/8Bitdo. The only downside is the lack of single Joy-Con support, needing two to play the game.
Difficulty – this is a frantic action brawler, with some challenging combat encounters in game. To make the challenges a little more approachable, players can select three different options that alter the difficulty of the game. At the lowest setting, players can wipe out enemies with ease and will be able to get through the game with little difficulty. However, if the player wants a tougher experience, the highest setting will increase the damage that enemies can deal/take and really push the player to their limits.
Presentation – Jitsu Squad is a vibrant and stylish release, with the Saturday morning cartoon style of the visuals that contrasts with exaggerated blood and gore. The animations for the characters are smooth and flow well, along with the unique designs for each of the squad members. There are references to games, movies and even figures in gaming, with lines related to Kung Fu movies and even a guest appearance from YouTube creator Maximilian Dood (but I won’t say where).
The sound for this title has a lot of elements from different musical genres, taking heavy rock guitar rhythms and mixing them with traditional Japanese styled melodies as an example. There is a wide variety to the soundtrack for this release, as each world has multiple themes that add further depth to the experience. This title also features a lot of voice work, with the character cast having voice lines that are played during the game and vocals in music from Crush 40 singer Johnny Gioeli.
Final Thoughts – when this game was announced to be coming to consoles there was a lot of excitement for me, as I am a fan of action brawlers and have enjoyed many of the newer offerings this year. This title is reminiscent of the classic titles like Captain Commando and Turtles in Time, but with an ultra-violent and ultra-vibrant presentation. The action flows very well and there is a lot of excitement with the combat itself, as ability unlocks increase the chaos of play over time.
I very much enjoyed my time playing Jitsu Squad, as it is a fun and exciting brawler with a lot of love for the genre baked into it. The player characters, environment themes and in game humor is a lot of fun, making this game stand out from many others. It does have some flaws as there are some minor inconsistencies with hit detection, the occasional missed input when dashing and a little slowdown at times. However, I have no issue with recommending this game to everyone that enjoys beat ‘em up games.
In the end, I give Jitsu Squad a final score of 4.5/5. This is a quirky and vibrant action brawler, with buckets of cartoony blood and gore that is shed during play. The visuals, sound and gameplay mechanics combine together to create a unique experience, with the references to movies, games and other elements of pop culture adding the cherry on top. If you want to check this title out for yourself, links to each version of the game are below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)
Link to Xbox version (HERE)