Review: Cannon Dancer Osman
Osman, take my blues away
1989's Strider is one of those games. You know, the avowed classics that everybody thinks fondly of despite any attempt at a follow-up being something of a squiggly trickle of urine cascading through a sun-bleached craglet. That is to say, Tiertex's Strider II, built for microcomputers but also seen on the likes of the Master System, failed to light any fires by virtue of being a meritless piece of abject crap. Don't get mad at me, but Capcom's own 1999 Strider 2 seems no great shakes either, no matter how many times people seem to insist otherwise. I mean, it's fine, but it's a sloppy 2.5D mess compared to the gorgeously crafted and apparently inimitable Strider. People don't just like Hiryu's inaugural adventure, they love it. You could put a picture of it in the dictionary next to "Classic" and nobody in their right mind would disagree, except for the shockingly sexy ladies of the Oxford English Dictionary team. But I, as ever, digress.
What we have here in Cannon Dancer Osman is the 1996 coin-op from the director of Strider, one Kouichu Yotsui, credited in-game as "Isuke" and also director of Osman, written of elsewhere and generally considered to be the proper spiritual sequel to Strider. Those are some big shoes to fill, and with Ratalaika's usual emulation engine behind this belated port - the game's first home appearance - we can finally find out whether or not after all these years we finally have the next Strider. So I checked, and... we don't. I mean, not really.
It's not that Osman isn't fun. Okay, it sort of is a little bit that Osman isn't fun. Because I did not have that great of a time with Osman. Because as well as being one of those games (see paragraph 1), it's also one of those games. You know, the games that gather something of a reputation on account of their scarcity, then when they're finally made widely available, you get a first-hand example of The Emperor's New Clothes in action? I don't really want to list them as I'd be crucified (people like to pretend), but a future candidate would be Knuckles Chaotix, a truly appalling game that gets trotted out as a candidate for a release on something like a weekly basis. Osman was, for the longest time, relegated to MAME, but now it's here, and while I'm glad it has seen the light of day, I don't see it as being a patch on its pregenitor.
Then again, let me be reasonable; comparisons to Strider are inevitable. Played up in the marketing, which encourages the shared director, it's impossible not to think of Hiryu when you take control of protagonist Kirin. The big banana sword, though, is gone - replaced by a succession of kicks and punches. Controls are thoroughly responsive and it feels good in general to move Kirin around. It's in the game's difficulty and relative inscrutability that I found myself getting a little peeved. See, without the distance offered to you by said banana sword, I found it remarkably easy to take hits while in the midst of combat. It's all so visually busy and action-packed that the combination of its truly garish aesthetics and relentless action make it all a bit exhausting after a short time. That's not to say I don't like the visuals, I'm just not sure I like playing them as much as watching them.
This port, thankfully, does include some nice options to mitigate the arcade difficulty should you so please; modular things like adding a double-jump to the game, or making you invincible while attacking (which is a step too far into simplicity). The included Challenge Mode is a nice touch, stripping away the port's expected save states/rewinding, but letting you pick a couple of the new additions to make things more fair if you please. In terms of extras, outside some visual filters, there's nothing; no concept art, which would have been something of a bare minimum. I wouldn't really mind, but this port costs £24.99. I'm a great advocate of retro games being worth paying for, but £24.99 really is a lot, especially given the relative lack of additonal features here. Still, I'm reviewing the game, not so much the price, and it is worthy of praise that ININ and Ratalaika have got this former obscurity out there on digital (and physical!) shelves at all.
While I personally didn't love Osman, it's clear that many will relish it - anything this idiosyncratic deserves fans. And it's certainly better than Moon Diver.