With such distinct historical richness it's no shock popular culture has embraced Japanese samurai mythos over the years, including, of course, video games. Samurai Shodown wasn't the first game to take on the subject, but it certainly was the most successful at bringing samurai duelling to the tip of our fingers. Namco’s Soul series successfully took the action into the third dimension and to a lesser audience Square’s cult Bushido Blade games perfected the genre by ditching arcade shenanigans for lethal, realistic one strike killing moves. One Strike is a blade-swinging effort in the same vein on Switch, but is ‘One’ truly enough?
Never mind half a dozen different buttons for individual attacks complemented by several special moves unleashed by combining D-Pad motions – there are only two buttons used here: ‘A’ attacks, ‘B’ defends. You can only move or dash left or right with the aid of the shoulder buttons, there is no crouch or jumping. The action takes place in a single screen, and there's no scrolling of any sort. If you were expecting a large serving of different characters, we are sorry to report there are only six on offer. Single and multiplayer modes player offer Arcade (five lives per player), Team Duel (build a team of three warriors) and Tournament (up to eight players taking turns). For the hardcore lonely player ‘The Only Life’ mode will take your warrior of choice to face the other five to determine the greatest warrior in all of Japan.
You may have been led to believe from the previous paragraph that One Strike is a package that's light on content when stacked side to side to recent offerings such as BlazBlue or Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. You are absolutely right, there would never be any chance to compare a small indie game to those fighting games. And yet… we have been unable to put this game down since it landed on our Switch.
'Strike or Die' greets you in huge letters at the beginning of each duel. This binary outcome is your only certainty in One Slash. One warrior wins, the other dies, simple and to the point. Each of the six available characters is truly unique and discovering each one’s little quirks is part of the fun to be had: Kenji is your average disciplined samurai and fights with a katana. He can hold the attack button to place his weapon overhead and unleash it for a lethal downward slice on command.
Soujirou is a monk who wields a nodashi. He wears a traditional kasa and is thus unable to dash forward, but his blade has such a long reach it takes him little effort to get into striking distance. Tomoe is a female assassin and fights with a wakizashi. She strikes so fast opponents often get hit with the second strike after parrying the first. Hangaku is a rather distinct female fighter who uses a kusarigama. Her chain takes a moment to wind up, but once unleashed it has unsurpassed reach and it is very tricky to properly block. However, she is unable to defend herself and pressing the ‘defend’ button will instead perform a quick strike of the sickle, effectively making her the only character with two weapon options.
China is represented by Bai long who fights with a traditional guandao. This pole weapon does need some charge up to deliver a strike, but gives him exceptional defensive capabilities by rotating it around his body - he's also the only character that attacks when dashing back, turning this defensive move into an attacking one at the same time. Last, but not least, is the kunoichi Hinode, who fight with dual sais. As one might expect, her speed and the way she unorthodoxly lunges herself at you makes her a true threat. Mix and match these six characters for some truly stellar duel possibilities.
While the three levels of AI difficulty are more than a competent contest to match your skills, it's when you pass on a Joy-Con or Pro Controller to a second human player One Strike shines at its brightest. Duels can go from anything between two seconds to several minutes, depending on how successful you are at tricking your opponent into making a mistake. It didn't take us very long to figure out that physically distracting/harassing our opponents mid-match would more often than note take their head out of the game just enough to ensure a somewhat dishonest (yet hilarious) victory. We found great success by simply screaming “死ね!” (“Die!”) on top of our lungs at the moment of striking in our best Japanese, but results may vary (and your neighbours may be less than impressed).
The game’s visuals are halfway between 8 and 16-bit. Highly detailed character portraits clash against the actual character sprites who despite not having proper facial features betray their perceptive hardware generation with some fantastic animation frames (even when they become showers of blood). There is an individual stage for each character and they look like demakes of Samurai Shodown stages. Music is also a mix of traditional Japanese instruments to straight out Sega Mega Drive/Neo Geo Yamaha YM2612 sound chip emulation.
One Strike is a truly unique, 'pure' video game. For the asking price, you get a rather fresh take on the one-on-one fighting genre and it can quickly become your go-to game when you are in need of a break between other more complex games or just need a quick burst of intensive reflex exercise. Find a group of like-minded players to play it with you and it becomes your current best, most efficient option to ruin friendships on the Switch (at least until Super Mario Party is released). Grab it without fear and then... either strike or die. There are literally no other options.