Ignoring This Game Would Be A Grave Injustice
With all the great games that have come out these past couple years, I’m ashamed to admit Tanuki Justice wasn’t even on my radar. I take pride in ferreting out promising indies in advance. But like a ninja, these sneaky tanukis were invisible to my eyes. Thankfully, I was offered the opportunity to review the game and assuage my shame. Cause as a fan of both indie and retro, Tanuki Justice was a breath of fresh air.
The first thing you need to know about the game is that it’s very, very faithful to old school games. I view it as an NES game, but visually it might be more accurate to say it’s somewhere between NES and SNES. Though the graphics are simple, they are also quite attractive and diverse. But that only matters if the game is fun. Luckily, I can confirm Tanuki Justice succeeds in that regard. At least if you enjoy retro games. If not, you might want to just try it on the Normal difficulty, and not touch Hard or Insane.
All About The Action
Much like the games of yore, Tanuki Justice doesn’t really have a plot per se. There’s not even anything clarified as to why the villains are attacking or the backstory of the titular tanukis. It’s just the usual “villains are attacking, you have to defeat them” premise. That’s it. And honestly, that’s really all that’s necessary. Though my inner old school gamer does wish there was something like a digital manual that gave a sentence or two of exposition. But I digress. What matters is that Tanuki Justice succeeds in both being inspired by retro and playing like an older videogame. And I mean that last part as a compliment.
The controls are pretty easy to parse. Pressing B lets you jump, and another press lets you double jump. You have one attack, firing a shuriken with Y. You can press it repeatedly to machine gun foes, a strategy I strongly recommend you adopt. However, you can also fire the shuriken in any direction you want, even below yourself. Best of all, like in Contra, you can lock a direction by holding the ZL button, making it easier to move and strike fluidly. You can also lock your current movement with ZR, but be careful. If you hold ZR while running, you’ll keep moving, even slamming into foes. If you hold ZR while not moving, you can freely aim everywhere while standing still. Honestly, I stuck with ZL over ZR, as it led to fewer unnecessary deaths on my part. And die you will, since any hit instantly kills you. There’s no life meter whatsoever. You do have multiple lives and unlimited continues, however. Both of which help Tanuki Justice feel much more well balanced.
That Shield Is a Lifesaver
As you hit foes with your shuriken or collect blue gems, you’ll power up your Magic Gauge. Once it’s full, you can press the A button to unleash a slow-moving mega shuriken. Not only is this a powerful technique, but it’s vital as well. The reason being, the mega shuriken eats enemy bullets. And just like your standard shuriken, you can aim it wherever you please. What’s most important is holding onto the mega shuriken until you really need it. If you use it just cause an enemy is irritating you (like those horrible yellow ninja…), you might not have it when you’re really overwhelmed. Lastly, you can gather upgrades from item boxes to help out. The shuriken upgrade makes your basic attacks reach farther and hit faster. You can also find green shields that will protect you from death once.
You can probably tell the gameplay isn’t all that complex in Tanuki Justice, but it works wonderfully all the same. It’s tight, fast and responsive. The only quirk is that you can’t leap down to a platform below you. The experience honestly struck me as a mixture of Mega Man, Contra and Ninja Gaiden, but without the excessive difficulty of those classics. Which isn’t to say it’s an easy game. Even on Normal, Tanuki Justice is quite a handful. Though nominally a platformer, there are definite bullet hell moments. Those yellow ninja I mentioned earlier hurl a trio of shuriken at you when they appear, and then hop and fire shuriken right at your face. They’re responsible for most of my deaths in stages, other than the boss fights. You’ll also have areas in the game where you can’t move forward til you’ve dealt with all the foes, which I called Ambush Areas in my Boss Guide.
Beautiful As a Shinobi
The world of Tanuki Justice is split into 6 levels, each of which is totally different. There’s everything from bamboo forests to crashing waterfalls to fields of wheat and even sinister graveyards. Better yet, each stage has distinct and catchy music that really livens things up. You really won’t get bored by the visuals or music in the game, and they work together to keep you motivated. Which is good, since otherwise, frustration might lead to some players giving up. But I found the drive to win so strong that I marathoned the game, and managed to beat it my first time on Normal in about 40 minutes. Though what the game lacks in overall length, it makes up in creativity and fun.
You’re Not Ready For the Habu Demon…
No throwback to old school games would be complete without epic boss fights, and those in Tanuki Justice definitely satisfy. You’ll face everything from angry twin simians to undead caterpillars and even samurai pandas. No boss is the same as any other, and you’ll likely die a few times learning their patterns. Though the bosses aren’t all that different on harder difficulties, they do often introduce waves of minor minions to keep you distracted. The final boss of the game even gets a brand new feature where an angry pink eyeball shoots lasers at you. Which makes an already challenging boss even more difficult. Honestly, I enjoyed all the bosses in the game. My only real complaint, other than the occasional difficulty spikes, is that there’s not more to enjoy. While 6 stages isn’t necessarily unheard of in retro games, I couldn’t help but wish there were a couple more to keep me playing. That said, there are other elements present to keep fans happy.
Who Likes Waves of Enemies?
When you beat the game the first time, you’ll unlock Survival Mode. It has you face waves of foes with a very limited clock. There’s a meter on the top right of the screen, and when it goes from red to green, you can summon a wave early. The reason you want to do this is that every wave you summon adds more time to the clock. So you’ll need to match your skills to your bravery to really succeed here. I managed to get through 16 waves, and felt pretty proud of myself. At least until I saw there was a trophy for getting through 50 waves of foes… Which brings me to the next thing to keep you playing – trophies! Though definitely a more modern convention, I like the idea. That said, most of the achievements in Tanuki Justice are borderline sadistic. The craziest I found was keeping a 100% hit ratio in Insane without using any continues. But the truly die-hard retro fans will eat these trophies up.
No Justice Without Penda Justice!
Lastly, there’s one last mode you can unlock by beating the game on Hard. It’s called Penda Justice mode, and it’s both delightful and ridiculous. It lets you take control of one of the bosses in the game, the Penda Samurai. He plays pretty much like the tanuki, but with one key difference. His Magic Gauge is split into 3 gauges, each of which lets him dash forward once full. Oh and his mode is locked into Insane difficulty and features no continues at all. So if you’re really serious about proving your skills, it’s the mode for you.
Justice Is Served
I can’t help but be charmed by Tanuki Justice. It’s the second game I’ve played published by Storybird Studio, and it’s another great retro throwback. Yes, it’s challenging and sometimes unforgiving, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. The few modern conventions here do ultimately make it a more well-rounded package, as well as elements like being able to select stages in any order once you’ve beaten them or try it with another player. And while I do feel it’s a bit pricey, it’s still pretty easy to recommend at less than $20. If you’re a fan of retro-looking for something new, this is a great holiday treat.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Storybird Studio, Pixelheart, No Gravity Games; Developer: Wonderboy Bobi; Players: 1; Released: December 10, 2020; ESRB: E for Everyone 10+, Fantasy Violence; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.