*Update #2* After playing version 1.0.1 The new review score is 7.8. The original review remains unaltered however the breakdown at the bottom was changed to reflect the new score. Please note that the game has improved load times and has no issues with crashes, visual glitches, or audio issues. I also need to note that after rolling credits, the game unlocks tag mode that allows you to play as multiple characters in a play-through that addresses replayability concerns.
*Update #1* A day 1 patch is incoming on launch day (Dec. 9th). The review below will remain unaltered until after launch when we get a chance to re-review the game to see if the patch resolves any outstanding issues. So, please be aware the review below is version 1.0.0
Version 1.0.1 is said to…
- Fixes crashes and memory leaks
- Improves performance and FPS significantly
- Improves audio
- Improves graphic resolution
- Fixes various bugs and glitches
- Adds 1-4 Player Multiplayer (Previously 1-2)
- Adds FIGS languages (Previously ENG only)
Jitsu Squad is a beat ’em-up game that takes heavy inspiration from fighting games and the fighting game community at large. The game is a love letter with a lot of self-referential humor to boot. Developed by Tanuki Creative Studio and published by ININ Games, Jitsu Squad started from humble beginnings as a Kickstarter campaign and launched earlier this year on PC. Now the game is looking to make a second wave on consoles, but is the transition to console platforms graceful? Read on to find out.
The game is a beat ’em-up so the story is not very involved. The story is straightforward, you play as the Jitsu Squad, a team of heroic warriors that fights evil. The plot centers around a legendary statue called the Kusanagi Stone that can grant godly power to those that can awaken a demon within it. An evil sorcerer named Origami is seeking the Kusanagi Stone for their own nefarious purposes and it’s up to the Jitsu Squad comprised of Hero the raccoon, Jazz the frog, Baby the rabbit, and Aros the hog to save the day. That’s pretty much what there is to it, no need for further elaboration. The only thing I will add though, is there are guest characters that can assist you in your journey, namely a YouTuber named Maximilian Dood and indie characters Yooka & Laylee and cool cameos in video games never get old.
Jitsu Squad excels and suffers in this category. First the good, the game has one of the most amazing soundtracks I have ever heard while reviewing a game for this site. This is the gold standard in my opinion. Every song hits even from the start in the main menu. Practically every song is an earworm There was even a stage that takes place where the Jitsu Squad is surfing on lava and the song on that stage had lyrics that perfectly accompany the situation, as a matter of fact, the name of the song is aptly titled “Surfing on the Lava.” The song is very much in your face and is a throwback to 80s punk rock. It is unfortunate that this is the only song in the game with lyrics but doesn’t get it twisted, the songs for all the stages are catchy. Much like Street Fighter 2 had iconic songs for every stage, this game follows in that same vein to similar success in my book.
The last shout-out I want to give regarding the audio is the fighting game sound effects that they managed to sneak in without any legal issues. For instance, in the Marvel vs. Capcom games, you can play as Wolverine, and one of his moves is called Berserker Barrage. In the game, there are enemies with Freddy Kruger gloves that essentially function as Wolverine’s claws. That enemy’s main attack against you was Berserker Barrage and let me tell you I feel like that sound effect was straight-up lifted from that game and was put in there. I’m pretty sure Capcom owns that audio effect. Either the team got permission and the license to use those audio files, or the developers recorded it themselves and made it sound as close as they can to the original audio. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. There were other sound effects that are like this example and I hope that the developers did their due diligence to avoid any legal trouble.
Now will all the good out of the way, it is time for this review to take a sudden left turn for the worse. Before I really go into the bad I will say that this game seems to have the gain turned up a bit too much for my liking. When I review games, I exclusively play with headphones to control my audio experience from game to game. Typically I set the volume to 50% since it is just me in a room and my headphones are 3D audio/noise canceling so I don’t need them to be loud and I don’t want to lose my hearing. With that being said, this game was so loud at 50% I had to double check my headphones weren’t at 100% I ended up playing the game with my headphones at about 20%, and even then it was still kind of too loud for me. I know it is a minor nitpick especially for what I’m about to say next but it does bear mentioning. Also even if you don’t want to turn down your headphones or your TV, you could just go to the options menu and turn the audio slider down to your liking.
From here it only gets worse. Jitsu Squad has a lot of audio glitches. The game in general has performance issues which I will get to in the next section, but these issues spilled over into the audio namely, there were stretches where the audio cutoff. The game went full mute for about one to five seconds sporadically, mostly after loading into a new stage or a new area within a stage. Also, the game has a stage select menu with a song that plays every time. In addition, the game has a bonus level akin to the bonus level in Street Fighter 2 where you have to destroy items falling from the ceiling to get the best score. The biggest audio glitch that repeated without fail during my time with the game was when I beat a bonus stage and then load into the stage select screen and both songs were playing over each other simultaneously in the stage select screen. It was incoherent noise. The game was already a bit loud in my headphones but listening to that every time I ended a bonus stage with like nails to a chalkboard. Individually both songs were good but overlapping them was not doing anyone any good.
I am very mixed on this section because this category is a mix between the soundtrack and audio design. The soundtrack is superb and I give the highest marks. However, the audio design took a hit because of the performance of the game. Nobody wants to play a game like a silent movie and nobody wants to hear two songs overlapping each other in the main menu. I am of the mind right now that this game’s audio issues distract me too much and I feel bad that the talented artists that made these amazing songs did so for a product that can’t showcase it well.
In this section, I always break the category down into two parts as well, which are the art style/graphics and the performance of the game (such as resolution and frame rate). Jitsu Squad has the first part nailed down. The game’s art style is a cartoon (and a very violent cartoon at that). Animations are exaggerated including facial expressions. The game leans on old-school cartoon physics and I’m all for it. The game’s look definitely brought a smile to my face, especially with the Mortal Kombat-inspired “Cartoonality” that they did. As far as cartoon violence goes, this game has a lot of blood and when you defeat an enemy you kill them by slicing them in half with the appropriate animations to boot. The game is not gory though, the blood doesn’t stay on screen, and as soon as a character dies their sprites disappear before they even get a chance to land on the ground.
However, not all was sunshine and rainbows. Jitsu Squad has horrible performance issues. I should go ahead and say it here but I was given the code to review on Nintendo Switch. Now I know the Switch is no powerhouse, however, there is no excuse a beat ’em up can’t run on the Switch. This game is not taxing to run. I even checked the temperature of the Switch to make sure my hardware wasn’t at fault. I am of the belief that this game was poorly optimized for the Switch. I would hope that the other ports are not experiencing these issues, especially with PlayStation and Xbox hardware having more power under their belts.
As far as the performance issues in question, well there are many including, assets failing to load in gameplay. Often times a sprite would show up as a checkerboard box before loading in a few seconds later and replacing the checkerboard. This even happens at the beginning of a stage which is very insulting because the game has really long load times on the Switch. The game would take about a minute to load one level and evidently, it didn’t even finish loading because of all the checkerboard sprites all over the screen as it finishes loading. I would have appreciated a loading status bar so I could at least see where the progress was at.
On top of issues with loading the game, the game also frequently crashes. I stopped counting my crashes after nine. In the middle of playing a level, the game has to load in between various stages/environments. For instance, you might be outside for the part of a level but inside a cave for the second part in which case the game has to load that new area. The issue arises when the game has to stop to enter a loading screen and then the game crashes and sends you back to your home screen. Crashes can also be triggered by just pausing the game and checking the move list. I have never had a Switch game crash on me, and this game did it to me nine times over. The worst part is, I didn’t get to roll credits on this game. I was on the final level and it was another situation where I had to load in between phases of a level and then the game crashed. The good thing about this game’s auto-save feature is if you quit suddenly, you can resume your game at the beginning of the phase of the level you were in. This works wonders for me for those sudden crashes and I didn’t have to lose progress. However, now this feature is working against me because whatever issues caused the crash is now written into my save file because every time I try to load the final level, I get yeeted back to my Switch home screen. I tried to work around the system by going back and selecting an old level to perhaps clear the “cache” of sorts but even that didn’t work because the game was trying to load me back into a later part of the final level.
Performance issues don’t stop there. I played Jitsu Squad exclusively in single player and this game suffers from slowdown very badly. The game doesn’t quite turn into a slideshow but where there are so many enemies on screen the game slows down to a crawl as it struggles to render/process everything. The slowdown definitely ruined my timing a bunch for combos. I can only imagine how much worse the performance would get with four players all simultaneously trying to input commands. I’m not even sure the game support four players, it might only support two players.
Overall this section is mixed just like the audio but this one leans way more negative than positive. I don’t care how good your graphics and animations are. If your game can’t even run and won’t allow me to play the last 20 minutes of the game then this section gets a failing grade from me.
Despite the bad things I wrote in the last two sections, this section is positive. I only have one minor criticism/nitpick which is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. As far as how the game plays, I used a pro controller, and every face and should button was put to use. Double tap on the left stick in any direction to dash, A to jump, B for specials, Y for attack, X to attack with weapons you pick up, L to activate your fury state, R to grab, ZR to parry, and ZL to tag (only when tag mode is active). The game gets more complex from there because much like fighting games, there are combos and moves to memorize. It’s not that bad though, the game is designed for a more general audience, and as such moves are programmed with a Smash Bros input style so for instance a flying uppercut is executed by holding up and pressing Y. No command inputs in this game!
As far as beat ’em ups go, you can find assist characters that can essentially function as a screen nuke that wipes out all enemies on screen. As a fighting game fan, I am subscribed to Maximilian Dood who is known for covering fighting games. Seeing him be a guest/assist character was awesome! For his assist, he is dressed up like Ken from Street Fighter and he and his dog just throw out a Shinku Hadoken from the Marvel vs. Capcom games – Chef’s kiss. I wasn’t a fan of Yooka-Laylee’s implementation. They only show up once in the campaign and they were one of the few characters that didn’t nuke the screen. Instead, they rolled around the screen knocking enemies over. They didn’t even kill the enemies they hit. In my opinion, they were not a good assist and it’s a shame that they were able to license Yooka-Laylee and didn’t stick the landing with this one.
There are two other screen nukes that you have at your disposal, if you have the resources, pressing B nukes the screen. Also if you have enough of another resource, pressing L makes you go into a furry state that makes you invincible and increases all your attacks, it’s not quite a screen nuke but you can easily clear out a whole screen the old-fashioned way.
The only nitpick that I have is the fact that moves get unlocked slowly, even during the last level. I understand that you want to trickle things out so as to not overwhelm the player but you shouldn’t be getting pop-up screens about a new move you have unlocked when closing to finishing the game. I also am not sure if I liked the simplified Smash Bros inputs. I feel like this game wanted to have its cake and eat it too. This game is very inspired by fighting games, so much so that in one of the levels, you fight in an arcade and you can read the names of the arcade cabinets in the background including the names “Final Flight” “Guilty Bear” “Samurai Motown” and “Marble vs. Popcorn” Also, not a fighting game but I liked “Hassassin’s Greed” So with all this fighting game inspiration why not go all the way and implement command inputs and customize combo trees? I can see both perspectives, on the one hand, beat ’em ups can be innovated and can be served up to a niche that would receive it well, on the other hand, it would be alienated and the general consumer wouldn’t engage with it.
Another thing I want to nitpick is the fact that I can’t change my character between my levels. It would appear that I have to start a whole new campaign in order to play as a different character. Also, this game doesn’t appear to have a PvP mode. Even Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis had a versus mode.
Nitpicks aside, this section was a win for me. Jitsu Squad has a lot of charm and a lot of love for fighting games with many direct inspirations being clearly visible in the game. There are a couple of things to note though, the game only features voice acting in cutscenes and opts to use text bubbles in levels. Also, the game loves to be self referential for the genre. Every beat ’em up seemingly has to have an elevator level and one of the characters commented how they love elevator levels. So it’s charming stuff like that, that wins me over.
*sigh* Jitsu Squad is frustrating. I want to love this game. The game’s soundtrack is amazing. The game clearly has love for fighting games and beat ’em ups. However, the game has performance problems that effect the ability to finish the game due to constant crashes. The game has audio and visual bugs throughout and has issues running due to constant slowdown that effects the enjoyment of the game.
This is a first for me because I’m giving this game two scores. First, I will review the game as I played it. As it stands I cannot recommend this as a product that someone should buy. Crashes are unacceptable. I was willing to let one slide but 9+ and being unable to finish the game! That’s too much to sweep under the rug, and I would have expected QA to catch that. So I’m being generous and giving the game a 4/10. However, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt, I would hope that PlayStation and Xbox consoles are not going to experience these issues, I also expect that since the game has been out on PC for the last nine months that there haven’t been any issues. I also expect that this game will get patched on the Switch and the aforementioned performance issues are no longer valid. If that day comes, then Jitsu Squad gets a 7/10.
Jitsu Squad is out right now on PC and will release on December 9th on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Some marketing material includes the Xbox logo, but I haven’t been able to verify if the game is coming to Xbox the same day as the other two platforms. The game retails for $29.99 although, at the current time of writing, the game can be found for $19.99 on Steam. A review code was provided by the publisher for purposes of review. The game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
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