Ganryu 2: Hakuma Koijuma – 16-bit Samurai

Ganryu 2: Hakuma Koijuma - 16-bit Samurai

I’m stumbling across some truly challenging games lately. B.I.O.T.A. was one. My first session with Dark Quest: Board Game lasted barely 30 minutes, and Spelunky 2 is the greatest bamboozle in the history of games – a disarmingly cute experience that’s sadistic as heck.

While intense difficulty in a game can turn me off dedicating the time needed to “git gud” and complete it, there’s one new game that feels difficult, but fair. It punishes me, but I learn and get better with each attempt. I’m talking about ‘Ganryu 2’, from developer Storyboard Studio and publishers Pixel Heart and Just For Games.

Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojima, as the name implies, is the sequel to Ganryu (Musashi Ganryuki in Japan) a side-scrolling arcade game loosely based on one of legendary Japanese swordsman Musashi Miyamoto’s duels. After the events of the original Ganryu, Musashi hears the voice of Kojiro, his nemesis, from beyond the grave. Beckoning him to face him yet again, Musashi suspects that Kojiro may have offered his souls to demons in order to exact his revenge. He heads to Ganryu-jima for the ultimate duel.

The second one sees Ganryu 2 in action, it’s immediately apparent that it is a gorgeous game. While a lot of returning franchises opt for a more modern look, Ganryu 2 still has its feet firmly set in pixel art. There’s an impressive amount of detail in the game’s visuals, and a much more layered look compared to the original game – the world of Ganryu 2 feels much more alive for it. Side note: there are sequences that are mesmerizing, thanks to both the gameplay and some well-implemented parallax scrolling.

Ganryu 2 was fully developed in Unity. I’ve heard missed reports about recent games developed solely in Unity, and Ganryu 2 itself has already earned its fair share of negative reviews based on bugs from both the development and the Unity engine itself.

 I’ve received a code for a newer build of the game and am happy to say I haven’t encountered any minor or game-breaking bugs (yet). There are frequent patches and patch notes from Storyboard Studio, taking into account the feedback from both press and consumers alike. The most recent patches have addressed the difficulty of bosses.

From the get-go, Ganryu 2 is a game that plays just like the action platformers of yesteryear. Not only the original Ganryu but also genre heavyweights such as Strider and the Shinobi series. Players are able to run, sprint, jump, double-jump and slash their swords, as well as throw kunai at the armies of enemies trying to halt their progress.

The game is well-paced, and it doesn’t become overwhelming, but it isn’t a stroll through the cherry blossoms, either. There are moments where players need to have quick reflexes, such as encountering a tough enemy after a wall-jumping sequence. React accordingly, and you’ll vanquish your foe and sprint on. Fail, and you’ll either hit spikes, plummet back to earth, or both.

Some of the most fun I’ve had with Ganryu 2 actually comes from replaying a section I’ve memorized. On the initial attempt, I’m more careful and methodic. Preserving my kunai, walking through environments awaiting an ambush, and generally playing defensively. After a few attempts, I’m double-jump slashing to intercept kite ninja, throwing kunai at the enemies looking to attack me from behind and sprinting through the enemies before me, slashing like an absolute demon. I can’t overstate how amazingly cool this feels.

And it’s that kind of feeling that permeates through every aspect of Ganryu 2 – when you play it right. Whether you’re speed-running the game or taking the time to nail each section properly, you’ll live out your anime samurai fantasy.

While it has been tweaked multiple times after its initial release, Ganryu 2 is still noticeably hard. It can be infrequently difficult too, with many gamers claiming it has an unbalanced difficulty, or “out of nowhere” difficulty spikes. I’m inclined to agree, but it hasn’t turned me off playing the game entirely like other recent titles. Perhaps I’m blinded just how damn stylish it is.

Much like the graphics respect the original Ganryu, Ganryu 2’s soundtrack remains faithful to the original game. A well-crafted mix of traditional Japanese instruments and modern electronic sounds give each level and sequence its own identity, and its pleasant to hear flawless real instruments instead of compressed samples like in 1999’s Ganryu.

Thankfully, the entire soundtrack is available on Spotify, so you can enjoy it separately from the game if you so choose, and I choose.

Ganryu 2 perplexed me when I discovered it. Why bring back an arcade game from 1999 that while enjoyable, was far from perfect. Why not start your own samurai side-scroller from scratch? After some time with Ganryu 2, I discovered the answer. It’s a passion for the original game. A love of the real Miyamoto Musashi, who transcended from a man into a legend.

Ganryu 2 was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher. 

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