In a time before “get good” became a mantra for snarky fourteen-year-olds we were still perfecting the art of the rage quit. We expected arcade games to be hard because they wanted our money and somehow that was okay, but then they started porting these games to console and we kind of hoped for a slightly easier ride. We didn’t get one, we got annoyed, started breaking things, and the rage quit was born. One of the storied games that led to destroyed controllers everywhere was Shinobi and its descendants. All of these games were absolute nails but in two distinctly different forms. The original series was a side-scrolling platformer that quickly became known for its brain-melting difficulty. Obviously, because we weren’t suffering enough PTSD from the first time around it got brought back as a third-person beat-em-up a generation or two ago just to remind us it was still there and still absolutely horrendous. So now that we’re all sufficiently uncomfortable I’ll get onto today’s game. The title is Ganryu 2. I’ll explain why but there are reasons why certain things belong in the past.
So why did I just go on that little rant about Shinobi, then? Well, Ganryu 2 is like its original incarnation in many ways. The major difference is a character change, (obviously, it’s a different game,) and a massive boost graphically. The two IPs are very much from the same egg, though when it comes to their play style. In both instances, we have a side-scrolling slash-em-up that throws enemies at you like confetti and has bosses that make you want to be somewhere else. Structurally I have absolutely no problems with any of this. My issue, which I’ll come to shortly, is the baggage that comes with it.
So after ranting for the last two paragraphs what do I like about Ganryu 2? First and foremost this is a big dose of nostalgia wrapped in a very pretty bow. The levels are bright and colorful, the enemies are vaguely familiar, (in a good way,) and this title controls like a dream. Once you get used to the button combos you’ll be hacking and slashing your foes to bits while zipping about the place like a spider monkey in no time. As an action platformer, this one ticks all the boxes and feels like something straight out of your local arcade. Then the problems set in.
The first issue I have is with the story. This is more of a side note but unless you’ve played Ganryu, (I haven’t,) the plot makes absolutely no sense. If you’re going to do a sequel to a game that you released in 1999 please give us some sort of flashback to the events of the previous game. All we get as an intro is our hero being called out by the big bad and told to come and find him. After that, we’re straight into the game with nothing to tie anything together. This is not a story-intensive game but the problem here is that the player is left feeling a bit disconnected. Even those of us that did play the original will have 23 years of doing other things in the middle so can’t be expected to remember. There are literally gamers that weren’t born when the first title appeared so please give us a break.
The second and biggest problem here is that all the things that we didn’t like back in the 90s in gaming are present. We had to put up with no autosaving and being chucked unceremoniously back to the start of the level when we ran out of lives back then because there wasn’t really another way around it. Now if you get an arcade port on a current system you get save states, unlimited continues, and autosave functionality. This isn’t a port, but my point is that none of these things are present. We aren’t asking for the game to be made so easy it stops being fun, we’re asking for a level of customizable ability to complete the thing. At the very least a difficulty select would have been nice to see.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’d have completed the game on easy to see what it was all about and then gone back to normal for more of a challenge. That’s not just me with my reviewer hat on either. There are lots of gamers out there that want to work their way in gently and build the difficulty as they go. If they can’t complete the first level there isn’t a vast amount of chance that they’ll keep coming back.
Each level comes in acts. I’d love to tell you I soared past the first level and am now knee-deep in dead ninja and slain bosses, but I’m not because the difficulty is crippling. It took me a few tries to beat act one but once I’d memorized the level and figured out the boss’s move set I made it through. Remember, that if you lose all your lives you restart the level from scratch. The boss, though not too difficult in the long run will kill you on your first few attempts and if you’ve already lost a few lives during the level you’ll be redoing it, a lot. Act 2 is where the rot really set it.
So having managed to circumvent what seemed like imminent death by the skin of my teeth in the first act of level one I was presented with a mine cart. Does anybody remember that infamous Battletoads level with the speeders? Yeah, it reminded me of that. You’re speeding along jumping from card to cart with no real hint of where those jumps are going to be. If you miss the next cart it’s an instakill and you go back to the start of that section.
The controls are hairpin too, which means that if you accidentally tap jump twice you’re done for. Unless you have a really good memory or are very lucky you’ll die a bunch of times here and you’re nowhere near the level boss. As with the first instance in act one I can guarantee you absolutely will die because you have no idea what to expect. Then you won’t be tossed back to the start of this act but the start of the level. If you complete it you’ll be able to unlock level 2 and go back to it at will from the level select screen but that’s rather a tall if for many of us out here.
The problem is that far too much is being asked of players right from the off. If that cart level had been halfway through the game we’d be invested enough to power through, but right at the beginning, it feels crueler than it does cheap. You get to the point where you’ve died so many times that it just stops being fun. All this coupled with enemies that seem to like spawning into exactly the same space you’re jumping, awkward slashing controls for dealing with flying foes and slightly awkward feeling hit detection makes for a game that’s only going to be fun if you’re a fan of punishment.
Ganryu 2 is a game that on an arcade cabinet in 1995 would have been an absolute favorite, though even then I’d say the difficulty was excessive. As a 2022 home console release, this game feels more like something that’s just difficult for the sake of it without providing the player with any means to mitigate that difficulty. What this leaves us with is a game that will probably be fun for a few plays and then go to the back of the queue as other, more tolerant titles appear in our libraries. This obviously, doesn’t bode well for something we’ve spent our hard-earned money on. If you like crushing difficulty or really want a trip down memory lane Ganryu 2 might be a good call. I think the rest of us will probably want something a hair more forgiving though.
A blast from the past
Fun but frustrating
Ganryu 2 is an arcade platformer that belongs to the 90s. This title looks great and controls wonderfully but there are too many design choices that feel outdated and a bit cheap. If you’re looking for a true arcade experience this is probably as close as you’re going to get without being in front of a cabinet. If, however, you want all the fun of one of those games without the annoyances that came from the limitations of the time there are better choices out there for you.