When I hear the word tanuki I think of two things; the power up Mario uses in Super Mario Brothers 3, and Pom Poko, the Studio Ghibli movie featuring a gang of well-endowed tanuki. This 2D run and gun type platformer has a tanuki brother and his sister running through feudal Japan trying to stop an evil overlord from taking over the world. The story may seem a little generic; no one has names and there are only two lines of dialogue in the intro, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. Your objective is to take out all the enemies, on your own or with someone local and avoid getting hit.
Tanuki Justice starts with a tutorial level to get you up to speed with all the moves that your tanuki can do. Your tanuki’s weapon of choice is the shuriken, even though it is a throwing star and you technically throw it away. Through some kind of magic your supply is never ending so you never have to worry about conserving your supply or having to collect more. The tanuki can double jump making it easier to avoid enemies, projectiles, spikes, reach items that are higher up and platforms. There is a meter on the top of the screen, that when filled allows you to do a Super Move. This meter is filled by collecting blue gems that are in red chests around the level or defeating bosses. The Super Move is a huge shuriken that you can throw at enemies and choose the exact angle you want it to go using the thumbstick or directional buttons. There are power ups available in the stage for your shuriken to make it have a greater range and have more power, shield to protect you from one hit, and extra lives.
When you finish the tutorial and start the first level, you will find that everything in nature attacks you. Flowers, birds, monkeys, fish, bigger fish, you are safe from no one. Even though the super cute kitty ninjas in a rainbow of colours look harmless, they are deadly. One hit from the enemy themself or a projectile, you are dead. This is no walk in the park; it takes no time at all to burn through your three lives. The tanukis have three continues, so essentially nine lives, but this doesn’t really matter unless you are playing cooperative. You can die nine times and as long as the other person is still alive you can come back, but if you are playing single player if you die three times you have used a continue so you get sent to the beginning of the stage. There are no checkpoints in the levels so you have to get through the whole stage in one shot.
Tanuki Justice has three difficulty levels that you can choose from to decide how much you are going to be punished. I played on the lowest difficulty, Normal, and I have gotten my butt kicked. This game requires a lot of muscle memory, so you will probably have to play through the level a number of times to learn where and when the enemies are going to come out from. Playing cooperative I liked being able to use up to nine lives before starting at the beginning of the level again, but it gets extremely difficult when you play with someone who just wants to charge ahead and hogs the items. If the screen scrolls and hits you, you are dead. You also have to be cautious if you are going up vertical platforms because if you fall to an area off the screen you are also dead. To add a bit more stress there is a time limit for the level and boss fight. Even though this game is very difficult, you will not have to totally start over from the beginning like older ninja games (Ninja Gaiden I’m looking at you) would make you do.
Tanuki Justice has six levels, and one extra one labelled ??? to challenge. This may not seem like much, but if you are stuck on the same level for hours, it is more than enough. It totally reminds me of the game format from the Mega Man franchise, where you had to defeat six stages and their bosses to challenge Dr. Wily, the main villain of the game. Tanuki Justice also has you defeating bosses at the end of the levels, the first being a huge orange tabby cat with armour and a glowing yellow light on his chest who pukes up fiery hairballs that come at you and floating demon heads. If anything this game is definitely creative with all the enemies you face-off against!
Luckily the music in the game is quite good, because you will be hearing the same tunes over and over again. The visuals look like they are pulled right off a 16-bit game, so I feel right in my comfort zone. I have always loved playing challenging games ever since I was young, the Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden games being some of my favourites. There’s nothing like challenging something difficult and after being defeated multiple times finally completing it. It gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. Tanuki Justice is full of moments like this and I highly recommend checking it out if you like challenging run and gun style games. Just warning you now, you will swear a lot when you die from silly things. If you get frustrated super easily, or need a story that is more than:
Overlord “Hahaha I’m gonna dominate the world!”
Tanuki “In your dreams!”
(Seriously, this is the whole story.) If you need more then this may not be the game for you. All I know is I’ve thoroughly been enjoying it and can’t wait to get through Level 6 and the last stage. I’m gonna get defeated, a lot, but it’s going to be worth it!
Tanuki Justice (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Tanuki Justice is a super fun and difficult game reminiscent of challenging games like Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man. Not much for a story here but has a lot of ninja throwing star action, what more do you really need.