Spin Kicking My Way To World Domination?

HIGH Incredibly fast action. Colorful and vibrant.

LOW It starts crazy difficult, ramps up to nigh impossible. Disappointing overall package.

WTF No, seriously, just WTF?

I was midway through my first playthrough of Cannon Dancer: Osman (we’ll get to that in a moment) when my character, Kirin, made his way onto a pirate ship with dirty laundry festooned on the riggings.  Moments later, he was standing on a sword in the middle of the sky floating in front of a giant golden woman, and then he was fighting robots and demons in the middle of a jungle. 

After my head stopped spinning from the barrage of insane fever-dream imagery I had just been bombarded with, I remembered that this game was a spiritual sequel to 1989’s Strider.  “There’s no way Strider was this batshit crazy,” I said to myself, and I immediately purchased it on PSN to test my theory. 

…After fighting a mecha-ape almost immediately, I ate crow and realized that the ’90s were just weird, man. 

During the course of CD:O, Kirin is tasked with ending the brutal reign of Abdullah the Slaver.  While this character is already problematic on many levels, apparently she’s quite evil for… reasons we’re never really shown.  Along the way, Kirin must also brutally murder hundreds of underlings and several Bengal tigers along with countless robots and bizarre human-machine hybrids.  He also encounters a woman who claims to be a relative, and he celebrates this reunion by…. spin-kicking her to death. The story is a mishmash of cyberpunk, revenge tale, and hallucination that is baffling at its best.  Granted, story is not the main reason we’re here, but… wow.

I’m still not sure why the it’s subtitled Osman in the west, but only called Cannon Dancer in Japan. Both versions are included in this release, but I couldn’t tell the difference.  The cutscenes play out the same and gameplay is identical. 

Both titles are 2D side-scrolling action beat-’em-ups where Kirin kicks the living bejesus out of everything he encounters, and also engages in some light platforming while gaining extra abilities via destroying standard power-up capsules. These powers include increased attack range, more health, and ghostly images that mimic his movements, extending his attacks even further.  I refer to these as Kirin’s “stunt doubles.” 

Once it starts, the action never lets up thanks to some thrilling set-pieces such as a memorable sequence where Kirin must outrun a truck down a steep hill, making an almost blind jump to safety. Enemies are many and varied, and they all blow up real good or explode into chunky sprays of gore when beaten. 

That said, progression was a bit confusing. Bosses sometimes appear in a different order which varies the gameplay a bit, but I’m not totally sure what triggers it. There also comes a point about midway through the campaign when one of the bosses tells our hero to “remember how he died,” accompanied by a spinning icon that appears to represent his memories… or something? Attacking this ‘flashback’ seems to change the boss order, or at least the stage and background, but I can’t make heads or tails of it — I just chalk it up to more of the wackiness that is this game.

So this all sounds mostly great, but what’s wrong with Cannon Dancer: Osman? On a basic level, nothing. 

The controls are responsive, the action is frenetic, and each level constantly barrages players with stuff to do.  However, it starts out somewhat difficult (understandable, as it originated as an arcade title designed to eat money) and it quickly ramps up to damn-near impossible. 

Enemies appear at the end of every tough jump spraying bullets and lasers, bosses can completely evade attacks while spamming special moves that can kill Kirin almost instantly, and it only gets harder from there. In fairness, CD:O expects players to start with the Standard mode which allows access to several cheats and save states so they can learn patterns and strategies, but even then, Osman is a tough nut to crack.

More frustrating are some of CD:O‘s hidden quirks.  For instance, Kirin is quite nimble and able to climb many surfaces.  Unfortunately, which surfaces are climbable isn’t obvious.  I have no issue with trial-and-error play, but I draw the line at fiddly overhead handles that may or may not allow Kirin to grab them, based on pixel-perfect orientation. I also don’t love blind jumps, misleading signposting, and the ability to die during a freakin’ cutscene.  Cannon Dancer: Osman is also bad at telling players what Kirin’s abilities are — he has access to several throw moves, but they must be discovered (usually accidentally) them during play.

Finally, I wish the package offered a bit more than just the two gameplay modes and two indistinguishable versions of the same game.  For the price, there should be some making-of videos, developer interviews, production art, some history on the title, or just anything to round it out and make it feel like a better value for money.

Overall, I enjoyed the concept of Osman more than the execution.  There’s a decent action title here, but the steep difficulty and lack of bells and whistles make it a tough sell.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Mitchell Corporation, United Games Entertainment GmbH and co-published by Mitchell Corporation, United Games Entertainment GmbH, Atlus.  It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4/PS5, and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed several times. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, and Violence.The game features fighting against various human (and inhuman) enemies, many of which explode in a shower of pixelated blood when dispatched.  There are images of scantily clad women, and a scene depicting torture of the player character. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. All text in the game is displayed on-screen as subtitles.  The subtitles animate strangely in that they scroll at strange times, but everything is legible.  The cries of defeated enemies are not given subtitles, but visual cues alert the player that they have been beaten.  All story-related information is displayed as needed. In my view, this is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Jeff Ortloff
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