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May 2019

Okinawa Rush

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Sokaikan
Release Date: 2018


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Okinawa Rush'

by Thomas Wilde on Dec. 25, 2017 @ 4:00 a.m. PST

Okinawa Rush is an intensely fluid beat-'em-up, 2-D side-scrolling fighting game, inspired by the by the retro 16-bit era with its classic late-'80s/'90s arcade style design and gameplay experience.

The developers sent over a one-level demo of Okinawa Rush, and in that one level, I killed more ninjas than I have in entire separate games. I do not say this lightly, but this features Ninja Gaiden levels of incidental ninja slaughter, where you have to figure that whatever recruiter is responsible for their numbers is both good at his or her job, and told some astonishing lies.

Even on lower difficulties, like the "yellow belt," which is the default setting for a quick match, Okinawa Rush thinks nothing of throwing two dozen expendable ninja at you, so you can punch, kick, throw, fold, spindle and mutilate them. Some attacks knock them into the air for juggle combos; some send them flying backward so they'll get mulched against a wall or get shoved into deathtraps.

Okinawa Rush is another Kickstarter success story, and like a lot of those, it's a retro experience that's nonetheless spruced up with some very modern features. Playing it reminds me a lot of Double Dragon II on the NES, which did similar things with its control scheme; both it and Okinawa Rush are two-button games, but context, positioning and timing have been employed to make those two buttons do a lot of work. Okinawa Rush features attack and jump, yet still has a weirdly robust move set for its characters, including jump kicks, uppercuts, ground slams, a Final Fight-style grab into knee strike combo, and some kind of multidirectional wave of fire.

In the demo, you play as supernaturally powerful karate master Hiro Yashima, who gets home from fishing one day to find his wife dead and his children kidnapped. The Black Mantis ninja clan has come to Okinawa for light pillaging, extreme looting, and to get Hiro's training scroll, which will allow them to teach their ninja the same magical martial arts that Hiro is using. Naturally, this situation calls for a revenge rampage across the Japanese countryside, and that's exactly what happens.

In action, Okinawa Rush feels like a triumphant beer-slam of a dozen other games, past and present. Enemies explode into loot when slain, which you can spend at shops, though you can't in this demo; you can rescue tied-up villagers for much-needed bonuses, Metal Slug­-style; and the whole thing is constructed with well-animated pixel art, complete with font choices that remind me of a TurboGrafx-16 game. Much like other recent retro successes, it's the game that 1992 would've given its first-born child — I think the metaphor broke down, but go with it — to be able to make.

If you're playing on a worthwhile level, Okinawa Rush can also be difficult as all hell. If you just wade into a crowd of ninja and start punching, you will likely get the first four or five, but then the guys behind them open up with a salvo of throwing stars, and you end up minced. You can use Hiro's big, floaty jump to avoid them, which can be turned into a fast-moving dropkick at the touch of a button, or punch incoming attacks out of the air. In practice, it means every fight turns into a wuxia battle, where you as Hiro get to hop around the landscape like you're attached to the ceiling with wires while punching attacks out of the air and trying to get around enemies' blocks. It's fast-paced, and while it's easy enough to learn at first, I get the feeling that actual mastery — the point where you actually get the moves you want 99% of the time, rather than being pleasantly surprised when they come out — will take a significant time investment.

What I've played is a small vertical slice of Okinawa Rush without any real systems besides cut scenes and combat. The final version will reportedly have two more playable characters, a full co-op mode, and something that the developers call the "Feng Shui" system: You can buy items from the in-game shop to arrange delicately in your in-game house, and depending on that arrangement, you can unlock various bonuses for your character.

It's difficult to say much more than that. What I've played of Okinawa Rush, by the time I was able to limp to a D+ finish of the first level on intermediate difficulty, lasted about five minutes. It was five minutes of relentlessly punching ninja into chunky salsa, of course, which is never a bad time, but it's little more than proof of life and promises. With a little luck, though, Okinawa Rush has everything it needs to be the next new retro title: difficult, evocative, well-animated, and unlike its forebears, shockingly violent.

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