Like many of Nintendo's most memorable video games, Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido takes a seemingly mundane fixture of life and extrapolates it into a novel gameplay idea. In this case, co-developer Indieszero (Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, NES Remix) has built an action-puzzle game around conveyor-belt sushi, which serves as a vehicle for its match-three-style duels. And thanks to a knowingly zany presentation and regular stream of new mechanics, Sushi Striker is a fun and consuming puzzler unlike anything else currently on Switch, despite a few niggling issues.
Battling foes by throwing plates of sushi is an inherently silly premise, and Sushi Striker fully embraces the concept by wrapping it up in an even more ridiculous story. The game begins in the aftermath of the Sushi Struggles, a bitter war that took the parents of protagonist Musashi (who can be either a boy or girl) and resulted in the Empire gaining complete control over the world's sushi supply. As it happens, Musashi displays a preternatural gift for Sushi Striking--the ability to conjure plates of sushi and throw them in battle--and soon joins the Sushi Liberation Front, a Republic force fighting for the noble cause of sharing sushi with everyone. The tale only gets more absurd from there, but it remains delightfully charming throughout thanks to the hilarious writing and amusing anime cutscenes.
Musashi's journey encompasses more than 150 puzzle battles, which offer a novel and deceptively simple twist on match-three gameplay. The object of these is to link together plates of the same color as they whiz by on the conveyor belts in front of you, then throw those plates at your opponent to dish out damage. You have seven seconds to match plates; the more you're able to link up at once, the taller your stack will be, which in turn will inflict more damage when thrown. You can also chain together combos by throwing stacks of the same color consecutively, further racking up your score and increasing the amount of damage you deal.
As a result, battles are simultaneously frantic and strategic, as your success--particularly in the later stages of the game--hinges on effectively creating large stacks of plates before they disappear and chaining them into combos. The game also regularly introduces additional gameplay wrinkles as you progress through the story, which add further layers of complexity to battles and help keep the encounters fresh and exciting.
Chief among these are the Sushi Sprites--Pokemon-like magical creatures that can be called upon to unleash special skills. These abilities can be activated once you've eaten a sufficient amount of sushi, and they provide a temporary power that can help turn the tide of battle. One, for instance, imbues your plates with electricity, causing them to deal more damage; another turns all the plates on your lanes into the same color, allowing you to chain together a huge stack. There are more than 30 Sushi Sprites to collect in total, and experimenting with different combinations and devising the best way to leverage their abilities is one of the most satisfying aspects of the game.
On top of that, many battles introduce special capsule items, such as stopwatches or bombs. These randomly appear among the sushi and can be used against your opponent, provided you're able to link up the requisite number of plates before the item disappears. You can also outfit Musashi with different gears that alter the speed of your conveyor belts, as well as select a favorite variety of sushi; eat enough of it during a battle and it'll confer another passive ability, from an attack buff to health replenishment.
There's a lot to digest in Sushi Striker, but the game does a good job of parceling out new elements and gameplay ideas over the course of its single-player campaign, keeping it surprising and engaging for the majority of its duration. That said, the campaign does begin running out of steam toward the end. Later stages start to recycle earlier gimmicks without building on them (besides by imposing harsher restrictions), which results in some frustrating encounters. In particular, a stretch of late-game stages reintroduce wasabi plates. These temporarily stun you when eaten, slowing down the pace of the game considerably as you (often unsuccessfully) try to avoid grabbing them.
Likewise, while Sushi Striker generally plays well on Switch, it was clearly designed with the 3DS in mind, and the controls didn't translate quite as well to the hybrid console. You can play the game with either a controller or the console's touchscreen, but the latter is much better suited for the fast-paced gameplay. Using a control stick to toggle between different plates of sushi is imprecise and often frustrating, as you'll struggle to select the right plate as they roll by. Linking plates with the touchscreen, by contrast, feels more intuitive, although the game would still have benefited from the precision of a stylus.
Both the Switch and 3DS versions support local and online multiplayer, although curiously, these options need to be unlocked as you progress through the story, and there is no cross-play between platforms. In either case, you can take on rivals in two game types: Tasty Battles, the standard mode that only features sushi, and Chaos Battles, which throws capsule items into the mix as well. Additionally, the Switch version allows you to play locally on a single console. Multiplayer battles don't have the same element of surprise as the single-player encounters, but they're still fun and strategic, as you can test your best Sushi Sprite combinations out against other human players.
Despite its imperfect transition to Switch, Sushi Striker is one of the more enjoyable puzzle games in the console's library. With a substantial campaign that's propped up by clever mechanics and a charmingly ludicrous story, the game offers a wealth of single- and multiplayer content to dive into. The controls suffer a bit in the move to Switch, and the campaign is stretched out for too long, but the fast-paced puzzle-matching gameplay offers a surprising amount of depth and is a real treat.