Nutjitsu Review

A level playing field.

Your goal in Nutjitsu is nuts. More specifically, it's acorns. Because you are a squirrel, and that's what you crave. So you run around, like Pac-Man avoiding ghosts, and you steal as many mystical acorns as you can from the foxes that guard them. Sometimes you might also pick up scrolls, but mostly your interests aren't so diverse, and mostly the game isn't, either.

Stages are composed of a single screen apiece. Environments appear hand-drawn, with attractive color palettes and nice attention to detail. You can easily see your foes wandering around each mazelike field, and you must occupy that same general space because that's where the all-important acorns appear. Over time, additional foxes arrive on the scene. Their presence makes life less pleasant. Brushing up against an enemy is fatal, unless you have a smoke bomb or similar item activated.

In the game's standard mode, you are offered a stage and an objective. You can either accept that combination or click on an icon to randomly shuffle the stage and objective and cycle through the list until you are presented with a setup that suits your tastes. You might be asked to grab a certain number of acorns. Sometimes, only those of a certain hue suffice, and you must deliver them to a sack that is positioned somewhere on the map. Alternatively, you may need to gather scrolls, or occupy a glowing portion of the stage for a set number of seconds. It's nice to see an attempt at variety, but the differences don't significantly impact how you must play the game. A survival mode, where you simply last as long as you can to secure a high score for the leaderboards, does little to improve matters.

Another problem is that there are only three enemy varieties. One type of fox walks around and is a general nuisance. A second type leaves behind a slimy green trail that slowly evaporates; pass over that goop too quickly, and you're poisoned, which slows your movement for a time. Finally, a third type of fox makes short charges with an extended spear. It's the most dangerous of the foxes, but still not a serious threat. None of the enemies individually pose a real hazard, and they aren't inclined to work as a team. They patrol without any particular sense of urgency, while you stroll around the area. The challenge comes not from ambitious, energetic, or interesting foes, but from their swelling numbers in cramped spaces.

The effects of the smoke bomb look more like a squirrel just joined the Blue Man Group.
The effects of the smoke bomb look more like a squirrel just joined the Blue Man Group.

Initially, there are only a handful of stages available, and you grow familiar with them quickly because you have to return to them frequently. They tend to offer a variety of linked pathways, but there are always choke points that put you in greater danger. You learn to avoid those points on each map. Once you do that, the game becomes fairly easy until numbers finally overwhelm you or you run out of supplies or complete the mission at hand.

After you finish a stage, you gain experience that eventually allows you to gain ranks. You also keep 20 percent of any loot you gathered, which you can spend at the in-game store. Your options are limited, however, until your rank climbs high enough to unlock additional abilities, acorn types, and inventory slots. Additional maps are unlocked in the same manner, but they're doled out sparingly. It's a long while before you have a wide variety of arenas available. Even then, it feels like you've unlocked new skins rather than proper new experiences. Games such as Pac-Man made the most of just a few maps; each one was simple, precise, and unique, allowing you to develop a new internal rhythm with. Here, the maps are visually complex, but are nonetheless indistinct in the practical sense. They’re not dynamic, nor do they expand like the stages memorably did in the Pac-Man Championship games. They’re just scenery. You don't even get to enjoy new music when unlocking a new stage, the game thus avoiding another chance to distinguish one level from another. Instead, the same boring song repeats on a loop the entire time you play.

The challenge comes not from ambitious, energetic, or interesting foes, but from their swelling numbers in cramped spaces.

Have speed potion, will travel. Quickly.
Have speed potion, will travel. Quickly.

You can increase or lower the difficulty level between missions. Doing the former produces greater experience point rewards for each victory, but also adds to the work you have to perform. You need to grab five scrolls to complete some missions on the easiest setting, for example, but on the higher settings, that number climbs as high as 25, and you have to avoid a greater number of foxes all the while. Foxes also become more effective, with the poisoned trails lingering longer and dashes occurring more frequently. You're likely to go through your supply of items more quickly, and that's a problem, because those items are expensive. A smoke bomb costs 2,000 acorns, while a pack of three costs 5,500. It's not unusual to activate three or four in a given mission, only to find in the end that you've earned a paltry 3,000 acorns as your reward. Imagine if Pac-Man charged you for each power pellet, and you could use them whenever you like provided you don’t mind spending all of the normal pellets you've hoarded.

The solution to that particular problem is obviously to not use items so often, but the foxes are numerous enough that eventually you find yourself herded into a corner unless you put one of your defensive measures to use and effortlessly escape. Besides, the game is structured in a way that encourages you to expend items regularly. Not only do you receive experience points that help you rank up more quickly, but achievements are awarded once you use the most expensive abilities a set number of times. The dynamic resembles grinding sessions in old Japanese role-playing games, except in this case, you don't get to explore a new region or visit an exotic town and talk to gossipy villagers. Your only reward is that you get to grind some more. Everyone eventually reaches the same point after playing long enough. The practiced player merely has to endure slightly less repetition along the way. As motivation goes, that's not terrific.

With a proactive and broader range of enemies and more distinct environments, along with a more balanced system that didn't penalize you for playing in the manner that appears to have been intended, Nutjitsu might have offered a simple but enjoyable time. Instead, it has settled for a tedious stroll from Rank 1 through 25, rather than the engaging romp that was called for. Nuts to that!

The Good

  • Attractive environments
  • Intuitive controls

The Bad

  • Not enough unique stages
  • Objectives don't offer enough variety to remain interesting
  • Poor balance punishes you for using power-ups
  • Uninspired, limited soundtrack

About the Author

Jason Venter likes acorns as much as the next guy, and his appreciation for action puzzle games goes back to a time when arcade cabinets were more common than payphone booths, but spending several hours ranking up his squirrel in Nutjitsu was just about enough to drive him nutty.


First Released May 8, 2014
  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Nutjitsu is a top-down, arcade-style acorn-snatcher game where you become the squirrel to retrieve the stolen artifacts from the villainous samurai.


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Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
Mild Fantasy Violence