What is a Sushi Castle? Well, it is neither a castle made of sushi, nor is it a castle in which you eat sushi. I hope that information doesn’t cause you to close your browser and look elsewhere for your sushi fix. Sushi Castle is the new Xbox Live Indie Game from Milkstone Studios, fine purveyors of over a dozen Xbox indie games. With familiar gameplay and quirky visuals, Sushi Castle is trying to fill a gap in the indie game library.
I say familiar gameplay, because if you have played Edmund McMillan’s The Binding of Isaac, then you have played Sushi Castle, and you’ve done so with more polish and style. Sushi Castle is basically a budget version re-skin of The Binding of Isaac. This means that you will be wandering through randomly generated rooms in an Asian inspired castle searching for the boss. Each room might contain a trap or a chest, but more often an assortment of monsters for you to shoot before the doors unlock and you move to the next chamber. You continue doing this until you find the boss, who you will slay mercilessly before advancing to the next level. It’s a simple concept and is certainly functional here, just not inspired.
Moving your gun toting ninja and shooting are mapped to the thumb sticks, Geometry Wars style, with shots possible in the 8 basic directions as you’re moving about. You will do a lot of bobbing and weaving to avoid enemy fire and line up your own shots, so it’s good that the controls are fairly smooth and responsive, never really getting in the way of what you intend to do. The room to room exploration consists mostly of the lock-in enemy encounters with a few empty and treasure chest rooms thrown in to alter the pace. This all works the same as in The Binding of Isaac (in parts exactly the same), with bested foes dropping coins and treasure chests containing goodies. There are direct substitutions evident as well, such as using onions in place of bombs.
Another aspect that survived the transformation from Isaac to Sushi Castle is the hardcore nature of game progression. Some rooms are brutal, containing upwards of 8-10 enemies that can have different attack patterns and all need to be cleared before the doors unlock. Pair this with the ability of some enemy types to attack you and move through rock without your being able to retaliate, and some rooms can very quickly lead to your demise. Therein lies the most prohibitive aspect of this game (and this is no different than Isaac) for me. There are no continues and no ifs, ands or buts. Death means game over and upon restarting, you are stripped of all progress and upgrades. This makes Sushi Castle incredibly frustrating because you can be humming right along, encounter one tough room, and be done.
Before that happens too many times and the monotony sets in though, exploring the castle isn’t too bad. Although not new to Sushi Castle, the minimap is clear and helpful, and coupled with the fact that boss doors, treasure doors, and regular doors are all visually distinct; death and not getting lost while exploring will stall progression. The enemy types are varied in their attack patterns, which makes navigating a room to kill them enjoyable on a basic tactical level, although the bosses are largely unimaginative and can generally be dispensed with using the cutting edge circle strafe. A nod to Sun Tzu, this game is not. The weapon upgrades and consumables such as ninja scrolls and sushi rolls help alleviate some of the monotony by altering the possible approach to enemy encounters a bit, but of course you lose them all when you die.
Sushi Castle is easy to recommend if you want The Binding of Isaac gameplay on your Xbox and are miffed that it isn’t there. Beyond that, if you enjoy this style of game and just want more, this certainly fills that need as well. More could be said about the worth of games that are direct copies of other games, but this is not really the forum for that discussion. If you are unfamiliar with this style of action dungeon crawler, Sushi Castle is priced to move, so if you are at all curious, I would suggest checking it out. Sushi Castle is a simple, competently made game and provides a great value if you stick with it and work through the castle. For me, the repetition of the search through random rooms, and the stiff punishment of death just made it too frustrating to enjoy.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.