There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned sword fight to bring people together. Two opponents facing off with their elongated stabby tools of choice can manifest itself in so many ways. In the case of SHINKENDO, it was an entry for GBJAM5. GBJAM is a game jam where entrants’ games must meet certain technical specifications in relation to the original GameBoy. These include a maximum resolution of 160px x 144px and using only four colors. As readers will see by the screenshots, this leads to a very minimalist approach to presentation for the games submitted.
However, not only does this game’s aesthetic abide by a very simplified approach, but the gameplay also follows this ethos. Players control a samurai and fight a rival on a bridge in medieval Japan. It’s a very typical setting for this sort of thing. It looks good, gets the point across and is very functional.
There are only four buttons to control the person. One for moving forward and another for moving back. Another button is for an overhead slash, while one final button does a slash that sends the sword in a sweeping, upward movement.
Despite there being so few buttons, there’s a lot that players can do with their little samurai. The movement buttons can actually be double tapped to dart forward and back, and can even be used to cancel attacks. This turns combat into a bit of a mind game as combatants try to trick each other into committing to an attack. Because actual sword swings are a fairly involved process, if one of these samurai miss their attack, their opponent cant capitalize and land a blow before the other person has a chance to get their defenses back up.
Of course, if the first player actually manages to cancel an attack, the tables could also be turned. The person looking for the opening may wind up exposing themselves instead. There is a constant back and forth like this as players look for openings while feigning to lower their defenses.
It’s possible to play against the computer or to go with two-player local coop. The CPU is pretty manageable for the first two or three fights, but after that difficulty ramps up quickly with the opponent getting much more aggressive. Also, the stage is the same, as is the rival, each fight. This is a game jam entry after all, so this sort of thing is to be expected.
Those interested in the two-player local coop mode will have a lot of fun. The only concern here is that both people need to use the PC’s keyboard while playing. This will leave folks playing shoulder-to-shoulder and makes for a tight squeeze.
SHINKENDO captures a lot of what makes fighting games great: the mind games. Stripping away so many buttons and tossing fancy inputs by the wayside keeps the game very pure. Players will spend their time trying to get in their opponents’ heads reading their moves while trying to trick them into making mistakes. This is a game that both fans of fighting games and those who have never played will enjoy.
SHINKENDO can be downloaded at the game’s Itch.io page.