I like everything about playing Jitsu Squad, except that some weird choices make getting to the point where I’m actually playing surprisingly frustrating.
- Title: Jitsu Squad
- Release Date:
- Price: $29.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam
- Recommended for fans of:
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Beat ’em up games don’t need to have a lot of depth to be a blast. Sit me down in front of an arcadey game where I go left to right punching baddies in the face and I’ll usually have a good time. Sure, something more than that helps, but it’s not really necessary.
Jitsu Squad isn’t the most bare-bones brawler I’ve played on the Switch, but it’s pretty close. Thankfully, a beautiful cartoony art style helps it stand out, even when a few structural issues make playing it bizarrely cumbersome.
Look and Feel
Jitsu Squad makes a brilliant first impression with its beautiful art style. Everything from the four playable characters to the backgrounds are rendered in a bright, colorful, cartoony art style that really pops off the screen. I’ve played this game both handheld on a Switch Lite and on a TV and it looks fantastic on both. The only complaint I have about the visuals is that when big attacks go off (which happens frequently), the game can drop into some frame rate issues. Thankfully those don’t interrupt the gameplay flow nearly as much as the visual flow.
The gameplay itself feels pretty generic but solid. Each of the four characters in the game has a slightly different feel, but a standardized control scheme means it’s easy to just grab a controller and start button mashing. The nuance in combat comes from a timing system, where waiting until just the right moment in a combo brings you more powerful attacks. There are also weapons that you can pick up, but since they seem to drop at prescribed points in a level instead of at random, they feel more like set pieces than a part of the standard gameplay.
Still, I like how this feels to play. I think it’s easy to bounce off of a beat ’em up because of how it feels moment to moment, and I have no complaints about that loop for Jitsu Squad.
Single Save File
The thing that kills Jitsu Squad for me is a meta issue outside of the gameplay or the aesthetics. The big issue with this game is that it seems like it goes out of its way to keep you from playing the most fun version of the game.
The titular Jitsu Squad is made up of four characters, clearly designed with an image in mind of arcade cabinets like The Simpsons or The X-Men. This game wants to be played with four players. So, when you start the game, you choose your character and are locked into that choice, as if you’ve grabbed a big green joystick with a picture of the frog character behind it. At that point, you cannot change characters. You also can’t add or remove players during a playthrough, so if you start out solo you can’t have someone join in on level 2. When I picked that frog I got locked in as playing on my own as that frog for the entire playthrough of the game.
That seems fine, except that the game has a built-in swapping mechanic. You can even build combos by starting as one character, getting an enemy into the air, then swapping to another character to finish them off. However, the default game mode doesn’t allow that swapping, so you have to start off in “Tag Team” in order to play with those swaps. Then you choose which characters are assigned to which player, and can go forth from there.
Oh, and the cherry on top is that this game only has one save file. It’s not a long game, but realizing I had to start my solo Tag Team game over because I let my cousins play the game in multiplayer was a gut punch.
I really want to like Jitsu Squad, but the fact that it makes just starting a game in a way that let me control multiple characters annoyed me. Not being able to have other players join in part-way through the game just feels awful. Brawlers are the genre for drop-in/drop-out gameplay, and being stuck between choosing to have a single-player game going or playing this multiplayer is ridiculous.
My son and I recently played through Shredder’s Revenge together, and he’s hungry for more simple action games. I’m sure we’ll come back to Jitsu Squad eventually, but for now, it’s languishing in my backlog pile.