Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojiro (Switch eShop)- Review

Thanks to PIXELHEART for the review code

Title: Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojiro
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 04/22/2022


Story

We previously looked at Andro Dunos II, another recent game based of an old NeoGeo Visco IP, and that was a damn fun game, being a great retro throwback that manages to be faithful despite a few minor gripes.

Little did I know that another Visco game would have a sequel shortly after, with this game being Ganryu, an action platformer from the late 90s. Taking place after the original game, you take control of a samurai, who sets out on a grand quest to defeat a vengeful nemesis, traveling across the region of Japan to stop the forces of demons in his way! There’s brief dialogue between boss encounters, and a small amount of in-game cutscenes, but otherwise the story doesn’t mean much, nor will you miss out if this is your first foray with Ganryu like it was for me.

Presentation

Andro Dunos II stuck to replicating the feel of a Neo Geo game, and went overboard in the presentation to try and do so, which I thought was pretty neat! However, I have to give the presentational edge to Ganryu 2, at least to an extent; Ganryu 2 keeps a sprite based visual style, but it doesn’t look much like the original at all, as everything has been vastly improved, and the font and a lot of the UI aspects also don’t attempt to match the nature of an arcade game, rather going for a more modern look. Considering how the original Ganryu looked very barebones for a Neo Geo game, this feels much closer to what the original game should have been.

Indeed, the sprites here are very well done, and leads Ganryu 2 to stand out as a super great pixel art representation in general. The backgrounds are equally lovely, and if it moved in silky smooth motion, this would be a damn gorgeous game. Unfortunately, here on Switch Ganryu 2 does not look smooth in the slightest, and while it’s definitely better than how it was at launch, this Switch port still has some stuttering issues and doesn’t maintain a consistent framerate at all, impacting not only how it looks, but how it feels and plays in general, so more on that aspect in a bit. Needless to say, the gorgeous art takes a big hit in this regard, even if it still scales nicely to handheld mode.

Another minor gripe with the visuals comes from the camera panning: when looking to the left, the right side of the screen is pushed off, and since enemies attack you from both sides, the times where you have to look both ways very quickly to deal with an ambush can make things very disorienting and almost dizzying: especially early on, since the second part of stage 1 has an autoscroller segment where this just becomes infuriating. Combine the poor framerate, and you have a painful experience to look at.

Thankfully, the music and sound are really good, and while the BGM doesn’t use arcade soundfonts or anything of the sort, the songs you do get here fit the old Japan vibe real nicely, and the sound effects work out fine. The original game didn’t have much in terms of memorable music, but the fact this sequel had more songs that stuck in my head is at least a testament to the fact these composers really put their hard work into the score.

Gameplay

Stages in Ganryu 2 are split up into multiple sections: there aren’t that many stages, but those you do have are fairly lengthy, with each section containing a good amount of enemies and hazards to jump, throw, and slash around as you work your way across Japan. The controls are your typical affair, with jump, two attack, dash, and magic change buttons at your disposal, though the inability to remap them is a bit irksome, since I’d have preferred the dash button on another spot besides A, and for the magic usage to not require pushing in the right stick. Still, I was able to adjust to the setup here within due time.

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Your main weapon is that of a sword, oddly mapped to X while the B button is to jump. However, the Y button uses your secondary projectile weapons, while are usually a form of kunai, key for hitting ambushing enemies from afar. That doesn’t mean these weapons are a slouch, as they’re still very powerful and effective at defeating these foes, and if you get really lucky, you can even find Kunai enhanced by sacred magic, which devastates bosses and spongier enemies, so both types of weapons have their benefits, with the sword being good for closer combat. You can even do dashing attacks with the sword, both with the A button or double tapping the D-pad.

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All in all, it sounds good, and when Ganryu 2 feels remotely close to smooth, it leads to a fun gameplay loop of jumping and dashing around the stage, jumping up walls and finding secret areas with upgrades and items, and just having a great time all around. Unfortunately, that fun quickly evaporates for varying reasons, not just due to the technical. For starters, dying completely resets your score, and even strips you of any pickups you obtained, even if you’ve reached another checkpoint since getting them. This is all fine and good for point bonuses and ammo, but when you can even find health upgrades or hidden Hanafuda cards in stages, losing them upon dying once is just silly, as is the fact that this system completely negates all incentive to score chase: either you clear an entire long stage deathless, or don’t bother in the slightest, which is what I ended up doing.

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Continuing also has harsh penalties, though this is to be a bit more expected due to the old-school difficulty. Continuing in the second half of a stage will send you back to the first… Though when these levels get pretty damn long, even memorizing 1-UP locations can only do so much before you start pulling your hair out having to redo all that work, even moreso if you want to keep collectibles! The checkpointing in the game seems fairly inconsistent too: some spots have quite a lot one after another, but some spots have pretty lengthy gaps. This wasn’t nearly as frustrating as the continue penalty, but it does feel like the game could use some more balancing in general, especially with stuff like the camera panning.

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Unfortunately, if you want to experience this game and still enjoy the core loop, the Switch just isn’t a spot I can recommend you do so: at launch, the game would outright shit itself and drop frames so violently early in the game that it was borderline close to being the worst performing Switch game I had seen since Arc of Alchemist. Thankfully by the time I got to the game, said section had been patched up to not dip as violently, but there are still stuttering frames and the framerate in general isn’t remotely smooth or locked, something other versions like on PC/Xbox do not suffer from.

While this did lead to me feeling as if I mostly had control of my character, the aforementioned headache inducing camera and the occasional eaten input made things a lot harder than they should be: this game is clearly best played at a locked 60FPS, and the Switch can’t even hold a steady 30, which leads to this being a shameful port. At the bare minimum, I hope further patching locks it at 30 so this fun action game can at least be playable from start to finish without hurting your eyes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Ganryu 2 is a gorgeous looking game that doesn’t play all that great: inconsistent checkpointing, weird scoring decisions, the horrible (but no longer unplayable) framerate, lead to this game being a solid action platformer better experienced elsewhere: with some more balancing, this could truly be an excellent action game, and it definitely is one I have enough confidence in to consider buying on my Series X for the smoother performance.

However, as it stands now on Switch, Ganryu 2 isn’t in a good shape at all, even with the recent patch: more balancing needs to be done, and that framerate needs stabilization. No longer a chaotic mess like it used to be, and it has glimmers of a fun gameplay loop, but alas, this quest for revenge should be held off on, for the time being at least.

I give Ganryu 2 a 5 out of 10.

Thoughts on the Review?

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