- Release Date: 22nd April 2022
- Developer: Storybird Studio
Ganryu 2 is a peculiar game to review as it’s a sequel to a game that’s over 20 years old on a system very few people owned. Ganryu had its debut on the Neo Geo (A phenomenal console!) in 1999 and was a decent side-scrolling hack and slash.
Ganryu 2 continues where the first left off, and I mean that literally. For better and for worse, this indie game plays and feels like a relic from the past, and if I wasn’t holding a PS4 controller, I would be none the wiser.
As someone who never wanted the PS1 era to end, this is a huge selling point for me. Unfortunately, some baffling issues hurt this game so much and tarnish what’s on offer here. In this Ganryu 2 PS4 review, I’ll be going through everything, good and bad.
Bottom Line Up Front
Ganryu 2 joins a growing list of franchises from yesteryear enjoying a second lease of life decades later. This game looks beautiful and sounds the part, but it holds on so dearly to its ‘90s roots that it throws modern gaming sensibilities to the wayside. If you’re willing to stomach the odd cheap death and a brutal checkpoint system, there’s fun to be had here.
Sadly, a more modern issue Ganryu 2 suffers from is an unstable frame rate. This problem likes to rear its ugly head when the screen gets busy and is problematic enough to slap even the tightest nostalgia goggles clean off.
A Lesson In Old School Gameplay
As if silently reminding me what experience I signed up for, my first foray into Ganryu 2 isn’t met with a tutorial. Musashi is taunted by our antagonist, Kojiro, and I’m sent on my way.
I’m left to feel out Musashi’s kit on my own, but one oddity quickly reveals itself when I pause the game to look at the controls, and that is, they aren’t there. If you want to see those, it’s a trip back to the main menu. Oddly enough, in the Options menu, you can’t rebind buttons. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but rebinding should be standard nowadays.
With the controller gripes out of the way, let’s begin! Ganryu 2, at its core, plays like a standard 2D side-scroller. You progress to the right of the screen whilst the game throws a motley assortment of enemies your way. Most can be quickly dispatched with a single hit. Some require more attention but can usually be interrupted.
Musashi has a few attacks at his disposal, and they all have uses and limitations. I like that each attack has a downside. The sword only works up close; Kunai are fantastic, but they are limited, and the dash attack can kill multiple foes at once, but you’re briefly vulnerable after you’ve used it.
I have very little to complain about as far as combat is concerned. Musashi is snappy and responsive, and aside from a few times where my double jump just refused to work, everything feels good.
Ganryu 2 nails the combat but demonstrates early that it’s not afraid to throw new mechanics into the mix. The 2nd act throws the player into a minecart section, forcing quick adjustments to a new play style, and this isn’t the only time the game does this.
These parts are executed well and bring welcome breaks to the standard side-scrolling formula.
There’s also a great selection of boss fights and they are without a doubt, my favorite part of the game. They all open with a nice bit of written banter, setting the stage for some tense battles.
There’s a decent variety of foes to dispatch and learning their attacks whilst desperately trying to deal damage is as nerve-wracking as it is rewarding.
Until the first boss, I’d only died a couple of times, but I paid the price for my aggressive playstyle here and lost all of my lives. I figured I’d go back to the start of the level at the very worst, but no; I was right back at the main menu, like the last 30 minutes never even happened.
I have to dedicate a section of this review to the part of Ganryu 2 that will likely be the most polarizing. Its difficulty.
Naturally, as a game with a 90s pedigree, Ganryu 2 is relentlessly difficult. With a bit of trial and error, you’ll get through your first level, but don’t get taken in by that false sense of security! Before you know it, you’ll be dealing with enemies that throw projectiles from afar, instant death pitfalls, and mini-bosses that demand concentration when you simply can’t give it. If you’re old enough to remember getting stunned into pits in Ninja Gaiden, you’ll see plenty of that in this game too!
Ganryu 2 is split into stages, each with 2 acts, and this is important as you have limited lives. Losing a life takes you back to the start of an act unless you reach a checkpoint. When you run out of lives, you go back to the beginning of the stage. This sort of thing is common in older games but has been stamped out in recent years. It goes with the aesthetic, but it won’t be to everyone’s liking.
As you progress through the stages, you will fall victim to plenty of deaths that you can control, as well as plenty that you can’t. Ganryu 2 isn’t afraid to throw the odd cheap shot with situations that are impossible to react to on your first try. You can memorize where these encounters are after some practice, but this process is punishing.
I ran into a lot of those ‘cheap shots’ even early on, as enemies frequently spawn in your path when you’re airborne. I love a challenging game, but when that difficulty just feels unfair, that’s a bit different.
All this talk of how tough Ganryu 2 is brings us to a rather interesting design choice. There is only a single difficulty, and there is no way to start with more lives.
If you’re not a battle-hardened retro masochist, losing so much progress to a hole in the ground can be frustrating, and that’s a problem. There’s nothing wrong with a hard game, but ways to make the game a little easier would be a welcome addition.
The sights and sounds of the ’90s
If the grueling difficulty doesn’t scare you off, You have a rather beautiful game to enjoy! The graphics are bright and colorful; and even when some deaths feel a little ‘cheap’, it definitely won’t be because you didn’t see it coming.
Every area looks and feels different, from claustrophobic caves to open sprawling fields. Ganryu 2 even stumbles into the future later on! Whoever worked on the visuals nailed it.
This game is a delight on the ears too with a fantastic soundtrack. Even when I could feel my frustrations rising, my head was bobbing to the music the entire time. Unless you go out of your way to tinker with the volume levels, the music drowns out a lot of the sounds.
With a soundtrack like this, it’s not a bad thing but if you’re longing for those punchy arcade bangs and crashes, Ganryu 2 has them in droves.
The rise and fall of a warrior
On the surface, Ganryu 2 is superb. From the detail in the environments to the character models, but because such a high standard is set, some odd graphical issues stand out. One of the most obvious is early in the game when you’re fighting against a backdrop of rolling hills.
An annoying black line flickers across the background every few seconds and if that’s intended, I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.
The minecart section I mentioned earlier suffers from issues of its own. Musashi’s leg clips through the front of the cart. Once you’ve noticed it, all you see is Musashi’s standing sprite just hiding behind the cart as you ride across the stage. Little things like this feel so out of place when there’s clear polish in other areas.
It may be a little unfair to judge Ganryu 2 based on games like it, but a lot of features are just missing. In Streets of Rage 4, for example, there are multiple characters to unlock from the previous games. It feels like a celebration of the series. Here, there’s 1 difficulty, a fixed control scheme, no in-game manual or tutorial, and no UI hints if you get lost. These issues add up to make Ganryu 2 feel empty.
And sadly, this brings me to my biggest issue with Ganryu 2. The Frame rate. On the PlayStation 4, I often ran into frame drops when the screen got busy. This wasn’t a problem in the first couple of acts but became a recurring issue later on. Getting hurt because my game couldn’t handle a few extra enemies was one of the most frustrating parts of my time with Ganryu 2. I played on a standard PS4, it isn’t cutting-edge technology anymore but a game like this should run flawlessly.
If you’re willing to look past its flaws, Ganryu 2 has a lot to offer in terms of replayability. There are plenty of pickups that only serve to pad your score and there’s a timer if you want to try and race through the stages as fast as possible.
- Beautiful graphics and a soundtrack you’ll be bobbing your head to the entire time.
- The great level of design constantly pushes you out of your comfort zone.
- Brutal difficulty for you retro masochists out there.
- Unstable frame rate.
- The lack of options outside strictly playing the campaign makes the whole package feel barebones.
- The brutal difficulty is a blessing for some and a curse to others. If you’re in the ‘others’ camp then you won’t enjoy Ganryu 2 and it’s as simple as that.
Streets of Rage 4
With how beloved the Streets of Rage games are (well, 1 and 2 are!), Street of Rage 4 really needed to knock it out of the park to impress fans. And oh boy, did it do just that! Streets of Rage 4 tastefully updates the tried and true 2D beat ’em up the formula.
Boasting a wonderfully addictive combo system, a character roster that includes every iteration of the originals, and a soundtrack you’ll have no choice but to tap your foot to.
River City Girls
I had so much fun playing River City Girls that I had to go back and try River City Ransom on the NES! This title throws RPG elements into the mix, which means on top of addictive combat, you have character-building too! River City Girls follows Kyoko and Misako on a journey through the mean streets of River City to rescue their boyfriends. Along the way, you can recruit enemies you’ve defeated to fight for you and if that sounds bonkers, that’s because it is, and it’s all the better for it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Does Ganryu 2 have multiplayer or co-op?
Answer: No, this is a solo experience only.
Question: Do you need to play the first game before this one?
Answer: No, games like this are typically light on plot and Ganryu 2 is no exception. The introduction quickly brings the player up to speed with the story with no need to revisit the original.
Question: How long is Ganryu 2?
Answer: There are 5 stages each with 2 Acts. This may not sound like a lot, but this title can take 10hours+ to beat depending on how many attempts you need to beat each stage.
Ganryu 2 harkens back to the days when the only way to beat a game was through grit and furious determination. There’s a fun 2D hack and slash to be found here if you can stomach the brutal difficulty. Unfortunately, frame rate issues are a problem and show up at the worst times. Maybe a future patch will fix this, but as of now, they affect this title’s overall score. A real shame.