There’s a Key & Peele sketch I think about occasionally that imagines a brainstorming meeting for the film Gremlins 2, a legendarily weird sequel. The creative consultant leading the meeting stresses that there are no bad ideas, and the writers go around the table, one-upping each other with stupidly crazy ideas — a googly-eyed gremlin! An electricity gremlin! Hulk Hogan! — until the punch line, which is that all of these really wild ideas are actually in the movie Gremlins 2.
Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido feels like the video-game version of that sketch. It’s a manic puzzle game with a surprising amount of depth wrapped around a ridiculous story. It feels like somebody in the room should have said no to this game at some point, and yet nobody did. The game is likely better for it.
The setting of Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is a world without fish (sure), one in which the Empire controls the sushi supply (sure) and you, playing as Musashi, must find a way to bring sushi to the masses (sure). Along the way, Musashi is aided by Sushi Sprites (which are basically Pokémon) who bolster his fighting abilities with special effects. You catch ‘em all by eating their “pledge sushi” (sure). The game is thoroughly committed to this bit, complete with anime cut scenes, including one in which a character dramatically eats sushi with such precision that it causes his opponent to freeze in place.
Even if the game didn’t go all-in on the sushi framing, the puzzle game at the heart of it is still surprisingly deep. The gist of it is, you have four conveyor belts of sushi passing in front of you (you know, like conveyor belts). By linking plates of the same color together, you create a stack that can then be thrown at your opponent. The more plates you link in one go (which can last up to seven seconds), the harder you hit. By eating sushi, you also build up the skills of your Sushi Sprites, who can do things to buff your attacks or hinder your opponent, like forming a shield or causing the lanes to speed up.
That’s the simple explanation, but there’s a lot more going on. You can also choose one of many persistent status effects to help you in battle. You can use different type of gears to change how the lanes speed up and slow down to fit your particular play style. You can level up your Sushi Sprites to make them evolve — I mean “grow up.” Certain battles feature capsules that require the player to string together a certain number of plates before they can be collected. The topmost sushi lane is shared with your opponent on the other side of the table, allowing them to steal potential plates from you. It can be and often is a lot to keep track of as you move through the game.
The game features more than 150 of these battles. Much like the rest of Sushi Striker’s anything-goes, kitchen-sink approach, however, its easy to manage if you keep throwing stuff at the wall. Keep losing to an opponent? Try swapping out your gear or your sprites. Eventually, things will work out, but much of the time, there are so many variables and things are moving so fast that I could never really be sure of whether any one tweak was the one that gave me an edge.
Luckily, there’s a lot of flexibility. You can play using the touchscreen or use the joystick and face buttons to flick around the screen. A lot of the time, it can feel like flailing around, hoping that your plate finds another stack before the timer runs out. But as I got a few hours in, I began to find a sort of flow and intention in my move, only to be thrown off by finicky or delicate controls. It takes a little getting used to.
Over the past year and change, the Switch has emerged as a reliable console for two main types of games — excellent installments of storied Nintendo franchises and ports of older games now playable on the go. Sushi Striker stands apart from the crowd. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it is a manic, charming, and thoroughly considered puzzle game — a refreshing recent standout in the Switch lineup.