Cannon Dancer Osman – PS5 Review 1

Cannon Dancer is a 2D platform/beat ’em up that has quite the enigmatic history.  It was an arcade title that came out in 1996 and was the spiritual successor to Capcom’s famous Strider.  Albeit without Capcom’s involvement.  Kouichi “Isuke” Yotsui, the lead designer of both games, had moved onto the less celebrated Mitchell Corporation but was given the creative freedom to make Cannon Dancer.

Isuke’s influence is immediately obvious when looking at it as Cannon Dancer‘s protoganist, Kirin, shares all of the same athleticism as Strider‘s Hiryu and both games have very similar gameplay, even if Hiryu is a swordsman in a weird futuristic Russia where as Kirin is happier throwing devastating kicks while running around in a neon-lit Arabian location.

The thing is, while everyone knows Strider, barely anyone remembers Cannon Dancer (also known as Osman in the States) and that’s because it never got a home port.  Where Strider had a huge arcade presence, conversions on all the home computers of the day, a shitty computer sequel and a fab PS1 one also (and a weirdly overrated PS3/360 reboot), Cannon Dancer never had any of that.  That is until now.

Our friends over at Ratalaika have continued their streak of porting across obscure retro curios with this effort.  What you get is arcade-perfect ports of Cannon Dancer and Osman, essentially the same game but with Japanese or English text respectively, along with the usual arcade port niceties that we’ve come to expect from these releases.

The stark, and kind of ugly, menu system lets you pick either game and then a choice of Standard and Challenge modes.  The former lets you enjoy quick saving, instant rewinding and a host of cheats.  So if you want to rampage through the game without a care in the world, here’s a good way to tame what is one of the hardest coin-op games you’re ever likely to play.

However, the trophy hunters among you won’t be doing that as it invalidates all of the game’s shiny shinies. So, you’ll be opting for the latter option.  Thankfully though, the people behind the port aren’t stupid and they know that you won’t be getting very far in the game without a little help and so they let you select two modifiers from a list.  From invincible attacks, jumps or slides to extra credits, it’s up to you but we’d recommend the option for four credits (you can go as high as eight) and those invincible attacks.

For the most part, Cannon Dancer is difficult.  Mostly this comes from the pace of it, the awkward multi-directional environments and the enemy type and placements.  Because Kirin is a nice, big, chunky sprite, it feels like there’s not a lot of room around you to manouevre and because you go from running to climbing, there’s a lot to deal with when enemies show up as quickly as they do and with such obscure attacks.  This is definitely one of those games that relies on repetition and memorisation if you really want to master it and even then, you’d better bring some significant skills with you.

So it is telling that the porting crew decided to give you a couple of helpful cheats.  Without them, most players would struggle to finish Cannon Dancer and that’s mainly down to the game’s sixth, and final, stage which is an absolute prick to get through as it chains a tricky vertical section with two mid-bosses before then leading into the game’s final boss.  It’ll drain most players of all their credits and it was the reason we switched up from eight credits to four and the invincible attacks.   That combo got us through it but it was still a struggle.

But really that shows how well-considered this port is.  And when combined with some limited visual options (scanlines, one wallpaper, CRT effects), the two original versions of the game and the two game modes, this port covers all the bases of what you need.  That said, a more complete package might have included things like game and concept art and other extras and for the price, a shockingly steep £24.99, you’d expect more.  After all, anyone desperate to play the original game would have emulated it years ago.

The price is definitely a real sticking point and will potentially hurt sales of the game but aside from that this is a well-handled port of a game that actually needed a little help in making it accessible.  The stunning ’90s visuals are so good (Isuke was originally a game artist and, of course, Strider was quite the looker too) and the unusual setting really does help the game stand out but these sort of games were designed to separate players from their spare change and that was definitely the case here.  So it’s far to say that this is actually the best way to play it.

The question that lingers is ‘who is this game for?’ and that’s fair.  Die hard Cannon Dancer fans probably don’t exist and if they do they’ve got this on MAME already.  Casual players may well be put off by the price and the difficulty.  But retro players looking for an obscure curio will definitely get something from this game and given how many 2D action platformers hit PSN every month, it’s interesting to see a game that’s almost three decades old school them in how this stuff is meant to be done.

Cannon Dancer
7 Overall
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Well-considered assistance options
- Difficulty can be nonsense at times
- Is a little bit hard to read what's happening
- The menus are a little stark and limited
- That price though
If you've ever fancied playing the spiritual successor to Strider, this port is the best way to do it and it cleverly adds some quality of life improvements that offset the original's rough difficulty spikes. The price is definitely far too steep for what you get.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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