Think you’re a gamer? Try Ganryu 2 and see if you can keep your composure. If you had it in the first place. Me? I’m a Zen-like rock – immovable, patient, transcendent almost, but this old-school side-scroller has me sharpening my katanas. Yes, I own some, and no, they’re neither fantasy nor ornamental.
Imagine my delight too, when the ‘Ganryu’ wasn’t a coincidence. If you, dear reader, are also a bit of a samurai nut, you’ll undoubtedly know about Miyamoto Musashi. Perhaps you also defaulted to the infamous Ganryu Island battle between said ‘sword saint’ and his nemesis Sasaki Kojirō. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the Mifune trilogy from <gulp!> the 1950s. Moving on.
Ganryu 2 takes these historical characters and dismisses all the accuracies in favour of arcade entertainment. The legend of Musashi is already skewed, but if you’re expecting something close to history, look away now. Rather than being a rough around the edges swordsman, our hero now sports kunai and takes down all manner of baddies – not exclusively hoomans.
I haven’t played the first game on the NeoGeo, but here it picks off where Musashi has beaten Kojirō (as in killed him), and we join our hero when he has a vision of his rival goading him on in spirit form. “You’ve only beaten my body but not my spirit, bitch”. Not the exact words. Still clearly angry, Musashi travels across six levels of Japan – separated into stages – starting from Hokkaido.
If anything, Ganryu 2 is an homage to the arcade classic Shinobi. It’s also as hard as nails. Musashi will be ninja-like, scrolling through ancient Japan, mostly one-hit-killing enemies that spawn out of nowhere. Yes, that old-school. At his disposal are limited kunai, swords (naturally), a dash that helps with platforming and killing lesser enemies, and help from the spirits – the Kami, which offers up a range of elemental specials. Like Shinobi.
Immediately I liked the game. First, Musashi is one of my heroes (ish), having read the infamous novel and most of the Vagabond manga. His appearance is different here, but the arcade flavour is my thing. Think Shinobi, Shadow Warriors, Dragon Ninja, and perhaps Tanuki Justice, as that’s a bit similar and also hard as nails. The controls are pretty spot on, but the key thing to take away is timing.
You can one-hit-kill most enemies just by ducking and attacking or throwing a kunai, but the amount of spawning is unsettling at times. It certainly isn’t endless, but you see a chest or dango to collect that’ll restore your health? As soon as you jump, an enemy is likely to appear. It’s a little cheap in areas, but hardcore gamers might like that challenge. Hardcore is obviously subjective, as you may have already finished this in one sitting without losing a life. Wow.
Most of the time, you’ll be learning simple attack patterns to avoid then attack; other times, it’ll be holding out to use your special to get rid of some troublesome enemies or cull a boss’s health. Either way, you’ll need to be sensible with the special as you have to fill the gauge, which takes a little bit of time. That said, the levels aren’t particularly massive per se; it’s just the difficulty. Oh, and fiddly wall jumping.
After a few repeat plays of the opening of Ganryu 2, a game. by StoryBird Studios, and this PS4 version via Just For Games, I got a bit clued up, and it was no longer as hard as I thought. Then I reached the Indiana Jones cart stage where ninjas are throwing shit at you (not literally), and you have to jump out onto the next cart before falling to your doom. This wasn’t necessarily the hard bit, but upon death, I’d respawn too far away from a cart and plunge to my death from stupid judgement. That was when the rage kicked in, and despite actually liking the game, it never truly went away.
This game would be lined up next to Ikari Warriors, Commando, Vendetta, and maybe the T2: Judgment Day cabinets. Without a doubt, I’d be pumping the coins into this one, forever losing out and restarting, but never deterred.
Does that mean I haven’t finished the game? Yes, that’s totally accurate: I haven’t. I can’t. Yet. But, in fear of this rage manifesting into a deconstructive review of “Ganryu 2 is a bad game because I’m not very good at it”, I’ll instead say Ganryu 2 is an excellent arcade game circa the 80s/early 90s with some challenging gameplay, tight mechanics with a few curveballs (wall jumping and enemy spawning), but is entertaining nevertheless. If you have the skills/patience.