Cannon Dancer Key Art
Image: ININ Games

One of 2023's biggest surprises is the return of Cannon Dancer - Osman. Developed by Mitchell Corporation and released in arcades in 1996, thanks to a limited run of arcade machines for the game in the west, this side-scrolling gem was once lost to time. But very soon — 9th March according to the North American Nintendo eShop — we'll finally be able to play this classic on home consoles for the very first time, thanks to ININ Games.

So, what's the big deal other than this being a once-lost gem? Koichi "Isuke" Yotsui, the director behind Capcom's legendary Strider, was the lead designer on Cannon Dancer - Osman, and he's gone on record calling this game "my Strider 2" (we'll forget about the real Strider 2 for a second).

Since 1996, Isuke has been working as a freelance game designer, working on titles such as Willy Wombat on the Sega Saturn (as map designer), Drakengard 2 (as an assistant planner), Moon Diver (as a designer) and Zero Time Dilemma (one of two puzzle designers). Now, he's returned alongside Cannon Dancer artist Kiyoshi Utata to help bring this arcade classic back to the stage.

We were lucky enough to speak very briefly to both Isuke and Utata about the rerelease, on the influences of Strider, and the general excitement about this game's console debut 27 years later.

Nintendo Life: It must be a dream come true to finally release Cannon Dancer on consoles. Why is now the right time to bring back the game?

Tokyo Game Show Cannon Dancer Strictly Limited photo
Koichi Yotsui (middle) and Kiyoshi Utata (right) with Strictly Limited cofounder Dennis Mendel (left) at the Tokyo Game Show 2022. — Image: ININ Games

Koichi "Isuke" Yotsui: On Slaver’s whim.

What was it like returning to a game you worked on over 25 years ago?

Isuke: It feels like an assassin from the past has appeared.

Even now, the game’s sprite work and visuals look absolutely incredible. Where did the idea for a neon, cyberpunk Arabian setting come from?

Kiyoshi Utata: It was not our intention to make the setting Arabic style, but we were conscious of building a near-future, stateless image.

The player, Kirin, could be seen as Arabic in style, given his waist belt and trousers, but the concept is that of a Japanese steeplejack. I designed this by adding impressive embroidery and the obi as a silhouette of the character to it.

Isuke: The demands of the Mitchell Company. They asked us to make a Strider-like action game. I wanted to create an adventure in a world and landscape not often featured in movies and games of the time.

Cannon Dancer 3
Image: ININ Games

Having worked on Strider, what influences did you take from that game’s combat and movement, and how did you evolve it for Cannon Dancer?

Isuke: Climbing; Running down steep slopes; Vertical agility; Instantaneous high-speed movement by sliding; Destruction with no time lag after hitting the attack button; Attack judgments based on light trace effects. These are novelties that did not exist at the time.

We combined these elements together with the design concept of using its superior mobility to dodge through a barrage of bullets, close in on the enemy, and defeat him with a single blow.

The plot has a reputation for being a bit crazy, even for the time. Was it always the intention to have some fun with the narrative?

Isuke: Arcade games are not the place for telling redundant stories. In a one-coin operation, we are not allowed to have much time for expression. So, it is important how you establish a world in such a limited amount of time, how to make the story work, or how to foreshadow a story or an intense drama...

Arcade games are poetry rather than literature. It must make you want to see more of the world, drama, and story that lie beyond the few minutes of playtime. We worked with this intention in mind.

What would you say to people who’ve never heard of or played the original arcade game who might be looking to pick this up?

Isuke: It has become an old game in an outdated format, having lost any opportunity to reach many people. However, now you can enjoy the miracle of a timeless classic of the past reborn in this day and age.

Have you ever wanted to go back to the Strider series?

Isuke: Of course. It was denied, so I quit Capcom.

This interview has been edited lightly.

Thanks to Koichi "Isuke" Yotsui and Kiyoshi Utata for speaking to us. Cannon Dancer - Osman is due to launch on the Switch eShop on 9th March 2023. You can also pre-order a physical version of the game over at Strictly Limited Games.