Thanks to Naps Team for the review code
Title: Gekido: Kintaro’s Revenge
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 03/22/2018
Taking place after prior events in Gekido for the PS1, Kintaro’s Revenge starts off with Tetsuo being tasked to investigate the strange rise of the undead and the disappearance of townsfolk, which leads to him discovering that the evil Kintaro is back after being defeated, ready to unlock his true power with the three seals and take over the world!
Being a port of a GBA game, Gekido offers a wide variety of display options to tinker around with, from a display that shows the game at the original GBA resolution, (as a very small image in the center of the screen) the default, wider view that stretches the game horizontally, and the one I prefer where the entire screen space is filled up, reasonably scaled in this port, unlike most full-screen attempts where a 4:3 image is fattened up to hideous results 99% of the time. The sprite art looks really smooth and akin to what you’d find on the Neo Geo, (seemingly inspired by titles on those systems) with decent animation.
Gekido also has two options for cutscenes and the BGM, where you can choose to use the original GBA versions for both, or upgraded, smoother cutscenes and a changed soundtrack. Surprisingly for a GBA game made in 2002, the original music is very high quality, and doesn’t have the high-pitched soundfont that GBA games were known for. Unfortunately, as a result the tracks are incredibly repetitive and loop endlessly, but in a catchy way that doesn’t tend to bother me much. (especially with the title screen and battle themes that still won’t leave my head) The new music is average at best, being more forgettable and somber, and not even sounding close to what the original songs do. Either option for the cutscenes works fine, with the old style making them akin to what you’d see in a Ninja Gaiden NES game.
Gekido offers three modes that you can tackle alone or with a friend in co-op, from the traditional, multi-stage Story Mode, a Survival Mode where you defeat endless waves of enemies and bosses for a high score, and finally, a randomized-dungeon where you hunt for treasure while defeating all the enemies you can. Each of these three modes follow the same control scheme, which can be freely mapped in the game’s option menu. There’s your standard punch and kick buttons, along with a dash and jump button, which can be combined with the two attack buttons to do a limited array of combos, and pressing both attack buttons together will do a health-draining screen flash attack that can stun enemies.
Sometimes, defeating an enemy with an attack will cause them to drop orbs or health items, the former of which will give Tetsuo a random effect defending on the orb’s color. While helpful powerups including faster or stronger attacks can be obtained through these orbs, you can also get some powerdowns, from an orb that reverses the control scheme for whatever reason, one that weakens your attack, to one that outright makes you unable to do anything but walk. These powerdowns don’t really add much to the game at all, since they’re easy to tell apart and the orbs in general rarely appear at all, so for most of the game you’ll be using the same basic combos over and over again, along with some throws if you get close enough to an enemy to do so.
Thankfully, the game isn’t totally mindless, as Gekido tries to add elements in the stages to prevent it from becoming a linear borefest. Each stage is a mini-maze of sorts, for better or worse, since you usually have to search for specific items to get access to other areas, all while defeating the hordes of enemies that pop up along the way. The first stage isn’t too bad at this, and offers enough hazards to keep you on your toes, but the second stage is where the faults of this concept become blatant, with a series of confusing mazes with multiple dead-ends as you search for color-coded keys in order to find the key you need to obtain a golden seal that will summon the stage boss. What should be a 10 minute effort like the prior stage ends up becoming a 30 minute ordeal when playing blind, and even if you know what you’re doing the stage can take a crazy amount of time.
You’ll also have to worry about death a lot in Gekido, since the game uses a bit of an arbitrary continue system that’s not really that fun to deal with. Falling into pits won’t insta-kill you, thankfully, (only dealing a tiny bit of damage) but when you lose a life, you in turn lose a continue, and during the story mode you only have five of them, and if you lose three or so on the first chapter, when the game saves a checkpoint to start at Chapter 2, you’ll only be able to continue with two lives unless you complete Chapter 1 without losing any lives. Lose all of your lives, and you’re sent back to the title screen. This is honestly a confusing design choice, and it’s made even more confusing when you count the fact that the enemies in Gekido aren’t that much of a problem, being fairly easy to take out with some blocking your attacks if you just mash buttons, requiring the player to actually wait for an opening. (especially when it comes to bosses)
No, the problem with the difficulty comes from the way numerous hazards are laid about, in ways that feel downright cheap at times. Stage 2 has an awful habit of stone crushers falling from the ceiling with little warning as you don’t see them until they fall on you, meaning that you’d have to memorize or approach really slowly to not be bashed in the head by one, and some of them are cruelly placed over doors or pits that can lead to you taking a lot of damage from blind jumps of faith, instead of from an actual enemy. Combined with the dead-end nature of Stage 2, and the obstacles took four of my five lives, leaving me with only one when I was finally able to make it to the boss, only to meet my end and be forced to redo that entire stage all over again. Yet even this dumb design decision can be partially excused, since memorization can make the labyrinth-like design of the stage a bit easier to deal with, even if it’s still way longer than it needs to be, at least, in the single player mode.
You see, there’s a reason I haven’t really talked much about the co-op mode in Gekido, and that’s solely because it’s a total mess save for one mode where it works well. In the story mode, both players share the pool of five lives, meaning that you have to double up your skills in order to make sure you won’t die. Enemies are even easier to take out with a buddy, yes, but the irritating hazards come back to curse you even more if you dare to play in this mode. Since the screen won’t fully move unless your partner is close enough to you, there can be some annoying bits where one player can fail a jump due to the second player being too far behind, or barely able to catch up with all the hazards and precise platforming required to progress. I even encounter a really amusing, yet equally devastating bug in this mode, where my friend tumbled into a pit right as I exited a screen in Stage 2’s temple, only for the grunt sound effect to repeat on an endless loop, rapidly draining my partner’s health without any invincibility frames. This glitch was yet another factor that made the main mode tougher to play in co-op, and while it’s amusing to hear a bunch of “OOOOOOOFFFFFFFS” in a row, it’s not so fun when your lives drain a lot because of it. I also had an odd glitch happen where the two of us died at the same time while on our last lives, causing the game to softlock on the game over screen. (Though this appears to have been patched in the latest update, while the co-op pit glitch has not) From the clunky nature of the story mode and the strange bugs, it’s very obvious that this game was not made with two player support in mind, which is why it’s a bit jarring that they didn’t at least try to balance the game a bit differently to account for two-players, or at least give each player their own set of five lives.
There is good news for brawler fans hoping for some redeeming factor about this game’s co-op mode, however, and that comes from the newly added Survival Mode. This is just a simple hi-score chaser where you must defeat endless hordes of enemies on a single life, the only goal being to get the highest score. Since it’s such a simple concept and the combat is the best part about Gekido, this is an excellent mode, and the one place Co-Op works rather well. You and a friend can just duke it out against all the enemies you can handle, and it’s just plain old linear fun, the way these hi-score chasing modes should be, and a great switch-exclusive addition.
Last, but not least, is the Relic Hunter mode, where you enter a randomized labyrinth filled with treasure rooms, dead ends and tough enemies, which basically equates to roguelike versions of Stage 2 that are even more evil than their main game counterparts. Despite being a new addition as well, the co-op is still as unbalanced and rough here as in the main story, and with the harsher difficulty this mode is one that’s more recommended to play by yourself, but it does add some replay value if you manage to complete the game but want more action.
In conclusion, Gekido: Kintaro’s Revenge is a solid remake of an obscure GBA game, and I always enjoy playing good obscure games I missed, which is one of the main reasons I love the Virtual Console. Sadly with no VC, obscure retro games aren’t that easy to come by, which is why it’s good we have folks like Naps Team making ports of their gems for the Switch. Despite the pretty unbalanced Co-Op and slightly cheap obstacle placement, Gekido is still a solid brawler with fun combat, an enjoyable and incredibly replayable survival mode, and an average at best dungeon exploration mode. It’s just a shame that for the $15, the game couldn’t be a bit more tweaked and balanced to be an experience that everyone can get into, instead of being a game that honestly works better as a single player experience, since that’s what the original game was made in mind for. I give Gekido: Kintaro’s Revenge a 6 out of 10, and recommend it for brawler fans looking for a new retro game if those Neogeo releaes aren’t cutting it for you. Maybe if this does well, we can get the PSOne Gekido to be ported in the same fashion, or a new sequel!