Jidaigeki (時代 劇). That is, the Japanese cinema par excellence. A term which, however, does not limit itself to defining a film genre and embraces an entire approach to fiction, which filmmakers in particular have appreciated, but which can also be found in television, theater, comics and video games. To identify a jidaigeki work, precise space-time coordinates are needed, since all productions set before 1868, the year that marks the end of the Tokugawa period, the return of imperial power and the progressive opening of the country to the West, fall into this category. Even more precisely, the jidaigeki favor two historical periods: Sengoku (1478-1603) and Tokugawa (1603-1868).
It is not clear in which of the two it is set Two Strikes, the video game created by Retro Reactor that invites us to a series of deadly duels to the edge: this very small independent studio, based in Spain, has already become the author of One Strike – the title is explanatory in itself – and is the qualitative leap forward is incredible, especially as regards aesthetics.
If you know and have played One Strike, it will become clear to you because we were genuinely impressed: from a “simple” work in pixel art, pleasant but not very distinctive, we move on to an artistic style that mixes the comic strip of the characters with the always splendido ukiyo-e to characterize the backdrops where the six warriors chosen by the authors, assassins who have made their respective weapons an extension of their body, compete in duels in which two blows are enough to be killed – or even one, as we will see shortly.
Two Strikes è in early access for a few months and it is undoubtedly an experience that is consumed in a short time but does not lack charm: think of games like Bushido Blade or the more recent Die by the Blade to get an even clearer idea of what you will go to meet. Accompanied by perfectly fitting music, already in its preliminary phase it is very interesting even if imperfect.
Our tried of Two Strikes will allow us to discover the game in the PC version.
Strike or Die
Two Strikes is based on a single concept repurposed in different ways: a duel where two hits are enough to kill or be killed. You can play alone in Arcade, One Life or Team Duel mode. The same possibilities, with the exception of One Life, are also available in Versus against another player. Early access makes available four characters out of six, all figures inspired by historical characters and not purely dating back to the epochs considered by the jidaigeki: we have the rōnin Kenji, the warrior Tomoe (which could refer to Tomoe Gozen), Goemon (most likely a tribute to Ishikawa Goemon) and the old monk Hōzōin (again, a possible reference to Hōzōin In’ei). The last two characters, Yuna and Jonathan, are not accessible and despite having seen the progress posted by the developers, we do not have sufficient means to analyze them.
Visually they all have their own charm and have been differentiated in a way clear, with no resemblance other than the stroke: the same weapons appear different, with Kenji and Tomoe appearing to be holding a katana and an odachi – at stake it is not easy to establish but a promotional drawing by Tomoe leaves this idea. Goemon uses the kunai and Hōzōin a jūmonji yari, a trident variant of the Japanese spear.
I commands, once in combat, they are very simple: there is only one type of light strike, one heavy blow, the parry and the ability to dodge forward or backward. Nothing else. The interesting aspect of these simple commands, however, is their application based on the character: if it is true that Kenji and Tomoe are very classic, in their style, and perform the actions just as we have listed them, Goemon and Hōzōin apply some light and interesting variation on the theme that differentiates theapproach to the duel. Goemon does not dodge backwards, preferring instead to use his kiseru (traditional Japanese pipe) to generate a thick cloud of smoke in which he can hide and make it impossible to know when he will attack. Hōzōin, on the other hand, does not dodge forward but executes a short range shot with his spear, much faster than his normal attacks and useful if you want to interrupt an action at the last moment or deceive the opponent. On the basis of these limited actions we must build our duel, learning about each warrior especially as regards the times of action and reaction between attack and defense.
These are very subtle but essential differences in a series of duels where timing is what makes the difference. We really appreciated this characterization of the characters, the attention placed on the type of weapon used and how this affects the combat. To give a practical example, if Kenji or Tomoe need instant input when the opponent’s offensive movement is perceived, since their block is immediate, Hōzōin instead has a slight delay in his guard which forces him to anticipate a split second the opponent’s move. These are adjustments to be learned on the field, because not all warriors have the same speed of action even when they attack and it is really a matter of moments: a trifle is enough to lose the moment, finding yourself at the mercy of the opponent. This is especially true for the heavy attack. Its main advantage is that it is lethal, that is a single shot is enough to kill the enemy, but it counterbalances this advantage by leaving us open in case it should be diverted: again, it’s all a game of joints and timing, not all characters have predictable heavy attacks (Tomoe is disadvantaged for example) and the risk that is run, if if you decide to parry them rather than dodge them, it is sensitive.
At the same time, it is the basis of the adrenaline of Two Strikes, which can be transformed into a tense duel to the last blow thanks to an overall good artificial intelligence – although it can be improved.
For what concern character balance, there is a slight slope for Goemon and Hōzōin: the first because it uses throwing weapons, albeit with a reduced range, and moves away while striking, putting itself in a position of advantage encouraged by the use of the cloud of smoke; the second for the range of his weapon, which allows him to maintain a greater safety distance when striking than Kenji and Tomoe. On the other hand, Hōzōin is disadvantaged by the fact that all his shots are brought to chest height, making it possible for example to use Tomoe’s powerful attack almost to break the fight. We could bring different combinations for which the potential advantages of the characters can be tamed but, on the whole, it suffices to say that there is no real distinction between the warriors in play for now: this is good, because the practice and the knowledge of the fighters allows us to mitigate some advantages and make the duel balanced.
It remains to be seen how Yuna and Jonathan will fit into the group: judging by the tweets of the developers, her style seems to be oriented on a quick and wild approach, using a lot; on Jonathan’s one, however, we have no clues, however, by observing his silhouette in the character selection screen, the fact that he keeps the sword in the sheath and only partially unlined makes us think of a warrior oriented on iaijutsu techniques.
In conclusion, Two Strikes is a huge step forward compared to the previous one, in particular from an aesthetic point of view. The modalities offered do not vary too much from each other but the insertion, in the event of a tie, of the tie-break makes the duels even more charged with tension, similar to what is done by the One Life mode where you have only one attempt available to defeat everyone. the opponents. Team combat is not exactly a tag in which you can change with your partner, but a clash where in case of defeat you are replaced by our ally to have a second chance of victory. We also know, again from the official social channels, that in order to avoid double killing in a duel, the developers will introduce a so-called clash mode (the official name does not yet exist): it is a crossing of blades from which the winner is the one who presses the most. quick the corresponding button to win the engagement. We have not seen it in Early Access and we can’t wait to try it out to see the intensity that duels will reach with this new mechanic.
Two Strikes is a 2D fighting game that is simple in its premises and execution, finely crafted on an artistic level but equally refined in the gameplay. Despite being an experience designed, at present, to last a short time, it can be captivating and always invites you to play, whether it is to test yourself or to learn how to master each duel: early access presented four characters out of six, each characterized in the aesthetics as in the fighting style and if you think of the previous One Strike, the applause of the developers is a must. There is a lot of quotation in the cinema but in general in the jidaigeki genre in its various expressions, including comics, and we are curious to understand how far the authors will want to go with the contents: at the moment the individual modes do not differ too much from each other, who knows what more can be done.