Now, anyone that’s played Super Mario Bros. 3 will surely remember the Tanooki Suit, but did you know it’s based on a freakin’ adorable Japanese raccoon dog?! Seriously, Google it. My heart hurts. But I bid you fair warning, leave all misconceptions of cuteness at the door because, despite its fluffy protagonist, Tanuki Justice is one hardcore, retro-inspired platformer that’s not for the faint of heart.
Developed by Wonderboy Bobi, this clever little title blends so much of what made hardcore platformers of the 8-bit era such a joy to play, with visual flair and challenging gameplay, but removes a lot of frustrations, such as clunky movement and endlessly respawning enemies. You’ll take control of a pint-sized shuriken-throwing tanuki warrior to eliminate a wide variety of colourful bad guys across seven extremely demanding stages. Each one is packed full of precision-platforming challenges, combined with bullet-hell segments and a unique boss fight. It’s a one-hit-kill deal for this valiant fluffball, and with only three precious lives at your disposal and no checkpoints, expect blood pressures to rise.
To make things a little easier, power-ups with a variety of effects can be collected. You can make your shuriken larger, more powerful, and with greater range. Shields can be found to stave off one fatal hit, and lives can be picked up along the way, though never without significant risk and feats of remarkable dexterity. Blue energy crystals will top up a power meter that, when full, grants you one giant shuriken that can cause massive damage to an enemy or perhaps take care of a large cluster of smaller ones. It’s a simple design, but the devil is in the detail, with absolutely no playtime wasted on arbitrary, dull obstacles. Every positioning of an enemy, platform, trap, or hazard feels very specific, designed to layer challenges on top of one another instead of simply overrunning you with waves of unavoidable minions or endless segments of spike traps.
Ultimately what we’re talking about here is muscle memory, and it will take multiple attempts of each level before you succeed, but with that struggle also comes the great reward in finally beating it, your body shaking with adrenaline as you land that final boss hit, hanging on to your one remaining life. There’s nothing like it. For those really struggling, couch co-op downgrades the difficulty entirely, assigning extra lives to each of you, which provides a more casual but still enjoyable campaign. No judgement!
The graphics aren’t quite 8-bit, but they’re very charming and certainly faithful in recreating the aesthetic of games of that era like Shinobi and Mega Man, just with a little more juice under the hood with respect to colours and definition. Enemies take the form of all kinds of fun animal characters like ninja kitties, undead puppers, and flying fish warriors, and each level offers a fresh visual theme and an excellent accompanying chiptune soundtrack to provide an all-round tasty package.
Tanuki Justice is incredibly short, despite its difficulty, and you’re not looking at longer than an hour to beat all of its levels on normal mode, though there are two more difficulty settings if you’re up for a truly brutal challenge. As ever though, it’s the quality over quantity approach that this writer appreciates above all else, and Tanuki Justice is as lean as they come. If you’re up for a top-notch old-school experience that won’t take up your life, you can’t go wrong with this little gem.
Tanuki Justice £12.99
Tanuki Justice is a high-quality, retro-inspired, hardcore platformer that vibrates with the personality of the era that it pays respects to. It is very short, but for those that prefer an all killer no filler approach, it’s money well spent.