The beat 'em up genre appears to be going through something of a renaissance. After its arcade heyday died out decades ago, there was a noticeable lull in the quality and frequency of new releases within the side-scrolling, fist-smashing genre. That all changed with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, the first glimpse of a comeback within the genre. Cemented by two other well-received legacy sequels, Streets of Rage 4 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, and you've got a revived genre on your hands.
That's where Itadaki Smash steps into the fore: a 2.5D side-scrolling beat 'em up from Main Loop Games, which aims to add to this existing canon of modernised arcade titles. It may not be quite as successful or refreshing as its contemporaries within the genre, but for a low-priced blitz with vivid Japanese streets and snappy combat, you can't go wrong.
It certainly doesn't rewrite the genre as other games have lately, most of all the new TMNT game, but Itadaki Smash is definitely worth the time thanks to its inherent charm and breezy gameplay.
The chances are you aren't heading to Itadaki Smash for its taut storytelling, which is probably for the best. As with a lot of games within the genre, it's hard to fit too much narrative in between gameplay-intensive fight sequences, so Itadaki Smash plays to its strength by not overstuffing any interludes in gameplay with plot.
The story is a fairly basic, if irreverent one. You play as a superpowered restaurant owner, fittingly named Katsu, whose business is thrown into turmoil after the nefarious Tengogo corporation steals all of your secret recipes. As either Katsu himself or one of the other workers at the eatery, all boasting their own combat powers, it's your job to wipe out Tengogo. It isn't just a faceless organisation though, imbuing a range of foods with sentience and the sole goal to wipe you out. Expect to battle hulking slabs of tofu, nimble leeks, and even more as you work through Itadaki Smash.
It's not going to win any awards for its storytelling, and it lacks any sort of surprise to keep things fresh throughout, but the story mode of Itadaki Smash more than fits the bill. In-game it's labelled Normal Mode, where you get three lives on each of the sixteen levels, and can restart from your previous checkpoint if you run out. Arcade Mode is a lot more unforgiving: it's one strike and you're out, going all the way back to the start once your lives run out.
Sadly, that story mode zips by in less than two hours, and there isn't too much left to do in Itadaki Smash afterwards. The aforementioned Arcade Mode is there for purists, and there are a few wave-based maps and split-screen face-off modes, but nothing to add more than two extra hours to the package. Fortunately, Itadaki Smash retails at a reasonable £10/$15 price point, so you definitely get your money's worth in that sense.
There is a missed opportunity with the story though, because a lack of character progression or skill levelling means you have very little incentive to replay as one of the three other playable fighters. You could simply dive into a few Arena Mode levels instead to get a feel for their nuances, and since they don't progress on a skill tree, there's little more to it than that. Especially with how short the story is, having a proper reason to replay it would've been nice.
It's a shame because Itadaki Smash is a lovely game to look at, a few grammatical problems in the dialogue aside. It runs a dream on Switch, too. I only encountered one brief case of slowdown in my time with the game, and that came at a combat-intensive moment with many enemies on-screen at once. Level designs are brimming with originality and colour, and there's nothing quite like beating up anthropomorphic foodstuffs while traipsing through an arcade. It's the sort of rich background design that works well in beat 'em ups, and in that sense Itadaki Smash, ahem, smashes it.
Plodding Your Way Through
But no beat 'em up will succeed without fluid combat, and for the most part, Itadaki Smash sticks the landing. There's a good range of attacks on offer, from basic and heavy punches to juggles and energy-consuming special moves. Your blue Ki bar is the barometer of the moves you can pull off, and overusing it will end up eating into your health, so it's always necessary to keep an eye on your meters. Most games within the genre will let you button-mash without a second thought, but Itadaki Smash is slightly more purposeful. Just watch out for a few slightly troublesome hit-boxes in combat, which can detach you from the experience somewhat.
There's a good range of enemies to wail on as well, often requiring some planning and off-the-cuff decision-making. Basic leek grunts go down with a punch or two, but the tofu slabs take a lot more punishment and have slam attacks you'll have to jump over to avoid. Boss battles aren't quite as monumental as you'd hope, and aside from the final battle, can be easily dealt with by spamming buttons and using special moves. That last fight is a bit tougher though, so keep an eye out for it.
Overall, Itadaki Smash is a solid if orthodox entry into the modern beat 'em up genre. It certainly doesn't push the scene forward as some recent games have, but it's proof yet again that side-scrolling action games can still have legs if executed well.
It's definitely on the short side and lacks some of the polish of its competitors, but for a reasonable price, you'll more than find some value in Itadaki Smash. If you're looking for a brief but entertaining thrill ride packed with combat and brimming with personality, it'll serve you well. Just don't hope for a game-changer.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A code was provided by the publisher.