Update: Version 1.01 has been rolled out and along with bug fixes it now allows you to map the digital D-Pad for movement, greatly improving your character response to inputs.
When the original Gekido Advance released on Game Boy Advance back in 2002 it took many by surprise. It featured beautiful side-scrolling brawler featuring detailed sprites, lovely animation, excellent backgrounds, memorable music and excellent cutscenes, but these elements hid the shortcomings of a somewhat repetitive brawler. A good 16 years later, Tetsuo is back and this time the playing field is on Nintendo Switch. Will lightning strike twice?
Instead of simply porting over the original GBA game, developer Naps Team took quite some time adding several extra features to this package. You can choose between the original cutscenes and music or opt for the newly anime-style cutscenes and reworked music tracks. There are some extra screen size options along with the original GBA resolution: a full screen stretch or a strange 16:9 hybrid that stretches the playing field during the outside portions of the game, but shrinks it back to regular GBA screen ratio when you’re inside houses or caves.
The original story mode featuring Tetsuo’s trek along five levels of supernatural happenings returns, along with a couple of welcome extra modes (‘Survival’ and the rogue-like ‘Relic Hunt’). Unlike a classic brawler, you don’t simply keep walking from left to right, clearing baddies to progress. You need to venture inside caves and houses, move up and down ladders and even do a spot of platforming while looking for items such as keys to open locked doors or lanterns to navigate dark caves. The back tracking and problem solving does help alleviate the repetitive nature of the fights, but it's barely enough of a game mechanic to keep you going.
The game lets you pick what buttons you wish to map on your Switch controller of choice, with a four button setup for punch, kick, jump and run (sadly you can not double-tap to run like in the original). There is only one special ‘area of effect’ move, initiated by pressing punch and kick - it does take time to recharge, but you can use it at any time (as long as you're willing to give up a life for the privilege - a feature seemingly lifted from Streets Of Rage 3). You can also access special combo finishers by sorting out the correct chain of punches and kicks to input, resulting in some flashier, fire-upgraded finishers. It might get you some time to get used to them, but they do eventually become second nature.
On the subject of ‘second’, the best addition to the package is the new two-player co-op mode that will certainly help even the odds. Even the most common of enemies are incredibly tricky to deal with without taking some seriously cheap shots. As per genre demands, picking up food from the floor will recover some of that lost health, but beware that not everything on the floor is an actual bonus. You will learn to fear grabbing power-ups without paying attention when you discover that some of them are actually power-downs such as ‘Slowdown’, ‘Broken’ or (shudder) ‘Reverse Controls’.
Despite not being a straight emulation, this package still runs on the original source code and that legacy proves somewhat troublesome; You will never be fighting more than three or four enemies on screen at a time - the old GBA limit - despite Switch more than being able to display hundreds of them. Oh, and every shadow you see on the floor isn’t what it seems - they're actually holes that will sap your precious energy every time you fall into them (and you will do so quite often we assure). Sadly, on our very first run we manage to lock up the game on the first level bosses, which was a real shame because we are actually getting into that specific fight.
Despite being a purely subjective issue, the control customisation does not enable you to use the digital D-Pad for movement with the analog as your only choice. This is somewhat ironic considering the game was initially designed to be played with the GBA D-Pad, and we often found it more difficult to play with the analog stick than in the original version. Some of this later issues can be patched out in the future, while the former is just something you will have to accept as a mandatory legacy from the original game design limitations.
Long-time SNK fans will also immediately notice that Tetsuo (and even a few of the enemies) look and move in an uncanny familiar fashion. This is due to Naps Team original love for the SNK games and if you haven't figure out yet, Testuo is a sort of tribute to Kyo, Yori, K’ and even Shingo from The King Of Fighters series. At times instead of an original game Gekido: Kitaro’s Revenge looks like an ambitious fan-made tribute to the genre. A true shame that it so clearly still holds onto the original game flaws, including relying on too much gameplay repetition and thus sadly at the end of the day frustration settles in more often instead of the fun this genre should be providing.
Gekido: Kintaro's Revenge is a love letter to the original Game Boy Advance game that many probably didn’t notice was pushing the envelope as far as graphics, animation, music and presentation were expected on Nintendo’s 32-bit handheld. As such, and despite excellent added extras to this Switch package, it stubbornly restrains itself in the past and is only truly recommended if you feel nostalgic towards the original game. The quest for the ultimate side-scrolling Switch brawler continues…