Things have been great for cooperative beat ‘em ups lately, with games like TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, River City Girls 2, Final Vendetta, and Kung Fury: Street Rage – Ultimate Edition all entertaining audiences with their unique approaches to the genre. Jitsu Squad from Tanuki Creative Studio and ININ Games has its own distinct style, combining flashy fighting game-style effects, humanoid animals, and 4-player local co-op into one shiny package. Jitsu wait, dear reader, and we’ll tell you how well it all turns out.
Jitsu Squad plays a fully voiced cinematic at the start of the game and between each of its eight levels. Non-voiced in-game cinematics also play at key points in each level. The story, basically, involves four feudal heroes who have been cursed by an evil sorcerer, turning them into furries, I mean, animals. That evil sorcerer, Origami, wants a legendary stone so he can take over the world or something. The protagonists have been whisked away by Master Ramen, an owl, allowing them to fight for good instead of being enslaved by Origami.
The story seems to aim for a Saturday morning cartoon vibe, but I found it more puerile than entertaining. The heroes’ dialog mostly consists of boasts and posturing. While some of them have backstory beefs with certain bosses, none of them feels like a real character with a personality (other than “trying too hard” ‘tude). The voice acting is some of the worst in recent memory, which doesn’t help.
The other sticking point for me is the abundance of errors in the written text. For instance, dozens of commas are missing throughout the script. The only time commas are used is when a semicolon is needed! Admittedly, this is a game developed in Europe, where commas are used more scarcely, but the lack of commas here goes beyond that, and it constantly pulled me out of the game.
At the start of the game, players will choose among four heroes (a fifth is planned as DLC). Hero is a raccoon who serves as an all-around character, Baby is rabbit who moves quickly and throws kunai blades, Jazz is an afro-wearing frog who uses magic and specializes in air combos, and Aros is a tank-like boar. They’re all visually distinct and play sufficiently differently from one another.
Unlike many newer beat ‘em ups, Jitsu Squad relies on one primary attack button for standard attacks and combos. There is a button for weapon attacks, but weapons are limited use and don’t carry over between stages, so they’re really for bosses or tough moments rather than mixing into normal combos. That said, the protagonists do gain special moves over the course of the game that are mostly performed by combining the attack button with one of the four cardinal directions. These moves look cool, are fun to perform, and work with combos. It’s a matter of taste, but I can’t help wishing for a second attack button for making bread-and-butter combos.
Other attack options include a grab button for holds and throws (always welcome), a super button, and a transform button. Supers require a fully charged meter, so they can’t be used very often. Still, they fill the screen with amazing Marvel vs. Capcom-style visual effects, so they’re definitely a highlight. Transforming allows our animal characters to briefly transform into their human forms for extra damage.
Finally, each level has one or more assist items to find. When picked up, these will summon a guest character (such as Yooka and Laylee or Maximilian Dood) to deal a flashy, powerful attack to all on-screen enemies. The assists certainly dazzle the eyes, but the fact that they can’t be collected and saved for special occasions dramatically limits their usefulness. If you’ve already cleared the screen of enemies before finding the item, it gets wasted.