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Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is an instant cult classic

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Sushi Striker is a confusing mess that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does

indieszero/Nintendo

There is a lot going on with Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, for better or worse.

Sushi Striker is a head-to-head puzzle game for the Nintendo Switch or the 3DS where you stand across from your opponent and try to destroy them with sushi. If that already sounds silly, don’t worry. It gets much, much worse. And by worse I mean better.

Sushi Striker begins with a simple idea, continues to pour other ideas on top of it until the whole thing seems a bit top heavy, and then just plunges on with its bizarre story and per-battle challenges until you want to tap out and ask it all to slow the hell down. But the breathless pace of new ideas and the speed of the matches themselves is unrelenting, in a breakneck way that shouldn’t work, yet paradoxically begins to feel relaxing.

You can use a standard controller or the touchscreen to link up rows of same-colored plates on moving sushi conveyor belts, with seven seconds available to complete the row and bank the plates. You then throw the plates at your opponent, with higher rows doing more damage.

If you grab a row of plates while all five spots in front of you are taken, one of them is bumped off, which is bad news if you’re replacing a tall pile with a short pile. You also collect Pokémon-like “Sushi Sprites” that give you special offensive or defensive powers, but you also have to worry about which items to use and when. You can also speed up the belts by not aiming for a connection, which brings more plates into the lanes to hopefully allow you to extend the combo and it goes on and on.

Sushi Striker introduces these mechanics one at a time, but the amount of information you have to keep in your head at any given moment while also making split-second decisions about how to make the most of every situation can feel excessive. The game asks you to crunch a ridiculous number of variables in real time while also taking in what your opponent is doing in order to react to their strategy — all while staying on the attack yourself.

Reading all this may seem like a lot, but the way it’s all laid out in the game makes things more intuitive than you may think from my written descriptions. In practice the game does a great job at keeping you just barely on the right side of being overwhelmed, which is a compliment to its design.

It’s helpful that the game feels like a complete joy to play, and lining up plates before flinging them to attack is always satisfying. All the game’s moving parts, both literally and figuratively, snap together tightly, rewarding a clear head and steady hands.

There’s also what seems to be a complete anime storyline in here, with voice acting that explores a brutal war centered over sushi, ultimately ending with the food being outlawed. It’s the conflict that made your character an orphan, who is then introduced to the glory of sushi. Your indoctrination to loving raw fish means you want to spread the good word to everyone in the world. But of course there’s an evil regime that stands in your way.

Imagine your friend got really, really high while thinking about food and you transcribed their thoughts and handed them to a talented studio with the express orders of turning it all into a game with remarkably good production values. About sushi.

You can play against others online, and of course you can play against a friend locally if you buy the Switch version — which at $49.99 is $10 more than the 3DS version for very little reason — but the single-player story and challenges are going to keep you busy for a pretty long time.

Sushi Striker: The Way of the Sushido is the sort of game that may get trampled in the run-up to E3, but in five years is going to be seen as some kind of ludicrous masterpiece. Get ahead of the curve and pick it up at launch tomorrow.