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[Preview] Two Strikes brutal ballet of bloody combat is a blast to play

Posted on March 24, 2024 by in Previews, Switch eShop

Two Strikes preview

Typically when I’m playing a fighting game, it doesn’t take much to recover from a sloppy combo or a mild beating from an opponent; there are usually plenty of chances to get my fighter back on their feet when my skills inevitably lapse. Two Strikes, on the other hand, isn’t quite so merciful. This upcoming fighting game from Retro Reactor promises exactly what it says on the tin: take damage twice, and you’re dead, often in gloriously gory fashion. I had the chance to demo the game briefly at Day of the Devs in San Francisco, and while I didn’t have enough time to get wholly acquainted with the nuances of battle, I enjoyed familiarizing myself with the tense, careful dance of Two Strikes’ vicious combat.

If the game’s premise sounds familiar, that’s because Two Strikes is an iteration of Retro Reactor’s previous title, One Strike. Beyond the obvious core gameplay change of needing to land two solid blows to take down an opponent instead of one, the biggest shift is in the aesthetic. Two Strikes leaves behind the pixel-art action of the first game for a beautiful hand-crafted style; its characters feel like they’ve popped out of a gritty samurai manga and onto the screen, and they wage their battles against painted backdrops that feel like they could be traditional Japanese screen prints.

“It’s all hand-drawn,” said Danilo Barbosa, lead developer of Two Strikes. “In the beginning it started with actually drawing on paper. And that was probably one of the reasons why it took us so long to finish this game. The characters, they can take up to five months to finish, because it’s over 120 sprites for each character.”

Of course, with the rules of combat being relatively straightforward, there’s no need for in-game HUD or health bars to distract from the action onscreen. Which is good, because fights in Two Strikes will more likely than not be done in seconds – maybe a bit longer if two very skilled players are up against one another. The build of the game I played had a few characters available that aren’t playable in the current Steam Early Access version, but having only limited time to get familiar with them, most of my time was spent getting used to the pace of combat. The attacks themselves seem fairly straightforward so far – there’s no need to worry about memorizing crazy combos to make it through – but timing is crucial.

“Attacking is quite dangerous in this game,” Barbosa said. “I think it’s one of the things that differentiates this game from others is that you have to be very careful when you attack, because if the match can be over in a second if you just throw attacks away.”

Despite the game’s name, it actually is possible to take down an opponent in a single strike – that is, if you can land a strong attack. These take more time to land then weak attacks, and they require you to get closer to your opponent, too. Even weak attacks have longer attack animations than you might expect, which means button mashing is basically the quickest way to open yourself up for damage. There are some special moves that can add an extra dynamic – one of my fighters could launch a smoke screen to act as a temporary distraction – but it really feels like timing is everything in Two Strikes.

The same rules apply to defense. Characters can dash forward or back with the push of a bumper, serving as quick means to get out of the danger zone in a pinch, or in some cases, to cancel an attack. The real power-play is the parry, which if timed perfectly, allows for an instantaneous follow-up attack. All of this combined results in a dynamic where I was always weighing whether acting or reacting was the better approach, trying to predict what my opponent would do next.

Two Strikes preview

Two Strikes definitely seems like it could be an ideal fighting game for party play. That’s partially because the core mechanics are so simple to approach and figure out on the fly, but also because the brisk pace of play is exciting, and the moment an opponent is defeated often results in a shocking splatter of blood across the screen that’s sure to garner some rallying cries from people watching nearby. Characters move with grace and precision in Two Strikes, executing broad but deliberate motions that feel just over-the-top enough to keep things exciting. Fitting, for a game that shares the spirt of the likes of Bushido Blade and Samurai Shodown.

My only apprehension at this point is that stages seem to consist of exclusively flat terrain across the board, and they didn’t seem particularly dynamic to me. They’re pretty, but I didn’t see any elements in the stages I played that seem like they’ll affect the flow of battle at all. The good news is that Barbosa says the full release of the game will contain other ways to play beyond just local matches, including an arcade mode, a story-driven mode, and “hopefully in the future” online play.

Barbosa said that ultimately, he hopes that Two Strikes will be a fighting game that can be enjoyed by a wide range of players.

“I think this game, the main focus… it’s more like casual to semi-pro, you know?” he said. “The idea is to appeal to everyone. But at the same time, you have to put some time in to master it.”

Two Strikes is planned for a release on Switch sometime soon. In the meantime, interested players can currently preview the game through Steam Early Access. Once a final release date is announced, we’ll be sure to share an update.

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