Before everyone had a console, beat ’em up games were extremely popular in arcades. They were one of very few titles multiple people could play at once, and unlike fighting games, allowed players to work together to beat iconic enemies. As trends started to shift, fewer titles in this genre were made. With digital releases making smaller titles feasible, along with a growing desire for local co-op titles, the genre has slowly started to return. With the latest, Jitsu Squad, players get to run through a manic world filled with unusual characters and enemies. Do these elements come together for an instant classic, or are you better off just playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge?
Jitsu Squad starts with a pretty basic premise. You need to protect a mysterious artifact and reclaim your master who was taken by the enemy. There isn’t much to the narrative, just a couple lines here/there, with most of the remaining dialogue offering sardonic quips, or brief one-liners. They’re mildly amusing scenes, often elevated by delightfully absurd artwork. All of this really helps bring together the various different worlds.
Someone Had a Lot of Fun Making This
In a lot of ways Jitsu Squad feels like a greatest hits for the genre. Like most titles there is an elevator section, stages with a lava and ice themes, a fast paced surfing section, dinosaurs, and no title in this genre would be complete without a fast moving vehicle stage. What makes them work isn’t the fact most of these things are genre staples, it’s the tongue-in-cheek approach to them.
Take the surfing section. The idea immediately invokes thoughts of classics like Turtles in Time, or Battletoads, as these were some of the hardest and most interesting stages in those respective games. In Jitsu Squad it has an 80s-esque song about surfing on lava, along with the usual hazards associated with these stages. This playful approach is fairly common, something that all players can enjoy, with it making the initial run a lot more amusing.
Plenty of Interesting Things to See and Discover
Despite being based on rather simple games, there is some complexity to Jitsu Squad. Every character has their own play style, unique weapons, special attacks, and more. Some are easier than others, with each character having enough charm to justify giving them a go. Special attacks, transformations, along with random support moves further the experience. Those looking to really get the most out of Jitsu Squad also have a counter and tag system. Countering an enemy allows you to block their attack, followed by punish them for even thinking they could stop you. It’s incredibly forgiving, making it very easy for players of all skill level to enjoy. Tagging works in a similar way, where you can play as multiple different heroes at once, and swap between them to deliver devastating combos. It’s little things like this that really bring the experience together. However, there are plenty of bumps along the way.
Unfortunately, there is no online mode. Anyone hoping to play with their friends must do that via local play, a mode that supports four concurrent players at once. In addition to that, scoring feels like it’s balanced around local co-op.
Given there isn’t an online or local leaderboard, maximizing points feels pointless without other players. It’s a choice that limits long term enjoyment, as there is no reason to break every box, maximize combos, or even try on the bonus stages (think Street Fighter). Not only does it limit the need to fully explore levels/get creative, the level system is not particularly great.
Players start every run at level one. Defeating specific enemies will drop scrolls, when enough are collected you unlock new/different attacks. This makes the early game rather slow, with players maxing out around the halfway point, at least when you select a single character. Since this resets with every run, and level select is only accessible on a run in progress, it adds a tedious element to new runs.
Jitsu Squad Review Verdict
Jitsu Squad is a good beat ’em up that is held back by a couple choices. The artwork, designs, and overall humor are all fantastic. It makes for a really enjoyable couple hour run. However, the lack of online, leaderboards, and persistent leveling will turn some players off. For this reason, if you’re looking for a quick beat ’em up in a quirky world, it’s hard to beat Jitsu Squad. However, if you’re looking for a more expansive experience, there are better options out there.
[Editor’s Note: Jitsu Squad was reviewed on PlayStation 5, and a copy was provided to us for review.]