In our reviews of Jitsu Squad, Terror of Hemasaurus, Chained Echoes and Panda Punch, we’re looking at four noteworthy indie titles that came out in December.
Jitsu Squad review (PS5)
We put Tanuki Creative Studio’s Jitsu Squad firmly on our radar when we got to play it for the first time this past summer. A refreshing take on the beat ’em set against a classic Saturday morning cartoon vibe, it was something we liked so much that we did a developer interview on it. Now that the console versions are out, we finally had a much longer hands-on session with it.
Something surprising that a longer session with Jitsy Squad reveals is that its four protagonists feel quite different from one another with their fighting styles – which certainly isn’t a given within this genre. Very often the differences barely go beyond the cosmetics of it, but Hero the Racoon, Aros the Boar, Jazz the Toad and Baby the Rabbit both look and feel like completely different animals – pun intended.
Jitsu Squad’s vibrant and colorful art style really jumps out at you, and although it makes it a bit overwhelming for a laid back gaming session it’s very high energy for when you’re looking to have a blast with friends in local co-op (the online variety isn’t supported). Gameplay-wise, it’s a typical side-scrolling brawler, where each character has a set of unique moves but they can all make use of a parry system – not too unlike what you’re used to in fighting games. You can also pair up with guest stars like Yooka Laylee for some special attacks, which is a very cool indie touch in a game that blends brawler game mechanics fighting game ones.
The inspirations for Jitsu Squad clearly lie within the arcade domain, and its eight stage campaign is relatively short as a result. They’re well designed though, always ending with a boss fight and even including vehicle-based mayhem. With a diverse cast of characters and different play styles to master, there’s replay value in spite of the short arcade campaign, and this one is a must-play if you enjoyed some of the other games in the genre in recent years. This fits in nicely alongside Streets of Rage 4 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, and that’s a big compliment for a game that doesn’t lean on existing IP.
Terror of Hemasaurus review (PS4)
Developed by Loren Lemcke and published by Digerati, Terror of Hemasaurus instantly looks and feels like a love letter to the 1980s arcade game Rampage, which was ported to nearly every home computer and console system of that time and received a film adaptation a few years ago. As in Rampage, you’re tearing down buildings, smashing vehicles and eating humans with a giant kaiju, yet this is more than a shameless copy-cat and a blast to play in its own right. Available for all major systems, we checked out the PS4 version.
Terror of Hemasaurus features two gameplay modes – an endless one where you can keep playing until you bite the dust but also a story mode, giving more depth to the arcade-like experience that makes up the endless mode. It follows a Godzilla-like premise where the Hemasaurus comes out to avenge what people have done to the planet. This takes humankind by surprise at first, but after a few levels you’ll notice they get better at mobilizing themselves against you.
And although the action is unmistakingly Rampage-like in nature, it’s very satisfying to get buildings to tumble down here because they don’t just collapse straight down but will also topple sideways and into other buildings, causing massive damage. It’s also easy to just focus on the destruction, as you don’t need to worry about replenishing your health by eating humans until the enemy gets stronger in later levels.
Despite being a modern day take on Rampage, Terror of Hemasaurus look very retro with its pixel style visuals – though with some cool effects that propel the game into the modern era. What’s also nice is that a four-player local multiplayer mode has also been included, with four different monsters – and who wouldn’t want to wreck a few cities while controlling a giant sloth? We certainly do.
Chained Echoes review (PS4)
Matthias Linda’s Chained Echoes finally launched last month through Deck13 for PCs and all major consoles – we tested the PlayStation 4 version of this retro-inspired RPG title.
It doesn’t take long to see where Chained Heroes got its inspiration from either – if you have fond memories of games like Chrono Trigger on the SNES then you’ll feel instantly at home here, despite Chained Echoes bringing some of its own nuances to the table. But yeah, first impressions are definitely going to be taking you back to the mid-to-late nineties, when 2D pixel graphics RPG were still massively popular and 3D ones were still trying to find their footing.
Within that particular subgenre, Chained Heroes stands out visually thanks to some lovingly crafted environments that go well beyond the generic look and feel of other ‘retro RPG’ titles thanks to a ton of variety in the scenery and tons of little details in the character art. Sure, it retains that “late 16 bit era” look, but it would have been one of the best looking examples of its kind had it been released then.
What also stands out is the large amount of narrative content, with individual storylines for each character that together makes for a rich story campaign that offers dozens of hours of content (clocking in at 30 to 40 hours worth of content even when you skip some of the optional quests and don’t explore all that much). With a story that smartly switches between personal quests and a larger story that involves turmoil on a war-like level inside a fantasy land called Valandis, it feels like Chained Echoes has a pretty impressive scale to it.
Gameplay-wise, it’s interesting to see that, despite plenty of customization through weapons and skills, your characters don’t actually level up. This means there’s less of an emphasis on grinding your stats and more on tactical decision making ahead of and during combat scenarios – which is great if you enjoy tactical RPGs. It would have been useful if the game had included some kind of in-game reference guide for some of its mechanics though. Even though you get tutorials, you’ll run into moments where you feel like you may have missed or forgotten a subtle nuance somewhere, and it’s a shame if you have to lower the difficulty level because of something like that. It’s a minor issue though, and perhaps it’s something that’ll be added post-launch, or at the very least we’ll have some online guides to help us. At the tail end of 2022, this one’s a real indie gem.
Panda Punch review (PS4)
We all known Ratalaika for bringing games to consoles that have been previously been launched for PCs, but Panda Punch is a brand new indie that received a simultaneous launch on all platforms. It was developed by Ninja Rabbit Studios and it’s a puzzle platformer that looks a bit like the studio’s previous title Micetopia as well as other Ratalaika releases like the FoxyLand games – we checked it out on a PS4 to find out what it brings to the table.
Story-wise, Panda Punch has a generic and nonsensical story about aliens who come to earth and a red panda who loses an arm in the process. His dad fixes him up with a mechanical arm (as red pandas and villains from The Fugitive do), and off he goes to defeat these aliens and their robots over the course of over 50 levels, during which you’ll gradually unlock new skills on top of your ability to punch enemies, move boxes and flip switches.
Despite mixing things up, however, Panda Punch is relatively straightforward – the puzzles aren’t noteworthy and the combat (even in boss-fights) isn’t very challenging either. Despite its bizarre but original plot, this is a fairly generic platformer, the kind that you may have played a dozen times before. You may have enjoyed them just as many times though, so depending on your perspective that may not be a bad thing – for us, Panda Punch feels like the kind of game we enjoyed playing while on the go with a Vita. Colorful, kind of mindless, and good fun for an hour or two – just not something you’ll remember a year from now. Trophy hunters will enjoy its easily obtainable platinum trophies (cross-buy), while completionists will enjoy finding all the coins that are hidden in sometimes hard to reach places. It won’t rock your world, but it’s almost the definition of what a low budget platformer is like – and there’s certainly an audience for that.