There is nothing more nostalgic than the 80s and 90s. Hair flaming in yellow, hadokens blasting across the stage, and pizzas being eaten by huge turtles. It was a radical time in pop culture from Japan to the United States. Plenty of these elements are reflected in Jitsu Squad, an upcoming beat-em-up by Tanuki Creative Studio. Based in The Netherlands, lead character designer and creator Dave Baljon alongside animator and music/sound composer Sebastien Romero discuss this exciting 2022 project.
RetroWare: Hello, thanks so much for your time to talk about Jitsu Squad. What is your development history before making this game?
Dave Baljon: I’ve worked in the movie/video game entertainment business for years as an account manager and license executive long before I started to work on the characters for Jitsu Squad. I used to work with Sebastien’s oldest brother and we became friends. One day Sebastien and I met, I showed him my designs and he suggested animating one of them to see how that would look. We became friends. The rest is history, and we are fortunate enough to work with such an amazing team!
Sebastien Romero: I met Dave who had the idea of creating Jitsu Squad and started animating some art and making some music tracks in my free time. Before we knew it, we were making a full-blown trailer for the game. After a couple of years of hard work and never quitting, we finally got some funding to pay people to join us and make the game playable.
RW: Can you give us your elevator pitch for the game?
DB: Well if there would be a recipe I would say: Take a pinch of Streets of Rage, three ounces of Samurai Shodown, five ounces of Marvel vs Capcom, two ounces of Metal Slug, and put it in a blender. Heat the oven to 900°F and bake it for an hour or two! Eat it while it’s smoking HOT! Bon Appétit!
RW: Jitsu Squad looks like an anime! Which shows have inspired you during the development of the game?
DB: Thank you so much! I grew up in the 80s so as a kid I watched a lot of Saturday morning cartoons and watched a lot of imported anime that you could rent at our local video store. It’s difficult to pick just one show, but I loved the ThunderCats, Transformers, Dino Riders, He-Man, Dungeons & Dragons, and the amazing Starcom! Then Samurai Pizza Cats came, I loved that show! The rental store had a lot of import games as well, I was blown away by the amazing character designs of Konami, Capcom, Tecmo, and lots more. We still play these games today!
SR: There are some anime inspirations like Samurai Pizza Cats & Dragon Ball but I think it also looks a lot like an anime because a lot of inspiration comes from Japanese games from the 90s (Capcom, SNK, Konami, Sega). We love making stuff funny wherever we can like in Parodius, Ganbare Goemon & Pocket Fighter.
RW: This is a cool-looking beat-em-up. How do you respect the gameplay of the genre and what new elements make Jitsu Squad stand out?
SR: You can’t make a beat ’em up without respecting the original games such as Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Caddilacs & Dinosaurs, Alien vs Predator, etc. However, we feel that most beat ’em ups from that era can feel a bit slow and stiff compared to the fighting games (Marvel vs Capcom, Street Fighter Alpha). So we tried to make Jitsu Squad very fast-paced to capture that Marvel vs Capcom 2 madness. For example, there is no walking in Jitsu Squad, just running and dashing. We also have a Tag Team mode in which you can switch between characters and create endless epic combos.
RW: Beat-em-ups can be repetitive in nature. How do you keep Jitsu Squad fresh throughout its entire playthrough?
DB: Yes, I know what you mean. With Jitsu Squad, we have tried to create something very different and we hope that players appreciate it. Let’s start with the characters in the game. “I am not going to spoil any of the story but there is a reason why the playable characters and bosses are portrayed as animals.”
I am pretty sure you played the demo so you know you can transform back to your human form. It’s a lot of extra work to create this Fury Mode character but it gives the player the feeling of being invincible, changes your set of moves and that’s cool! Also, you can make them do things that human characters can’t cause it would make them look silly. But because they are animals you can get more creative and goofy.
Jitsu Squad has a huge variety of enemies based on the theme of each stage. We wanted to avoid that enemies are basically the same but have a different color or throw a grenade instead of a knife. We wanted to give the player something to remember. You travel through ancient Japan, fight your way through the streets of the modern world, take on pirate scum, take the train through a world of fire and brave the icy plains of Frostjaw Fortress. In our opinion, every segment of each stage needs to feel fresh, exciting and with any luck puts a smile on your face.
RW: What weapons can we pick up in Jitsu Squad? Is there anything funny we can expect?
SR: Oh, there are some funny weapons alright! We’re not going to spoil too much, but some weapons might involve slapping someone with a fish on a stick and having a crazy alien as an arm.
RW: How does the upgrade system work?
DB: Let’s start with the soul Orbs: Blue, Red, and Yellow, Blue gives you health and upgrades your life bar. Red gives you the power to unleash your Super Special or go into Fury Mode. It also upgrades your red-colored power bar. Yellow is your Secondary Weapon energy. The Emaki Scrolls are dropped only by the Emaki Ninjas and make you unlock a new special move for your character if you collect enough of them.
We know how much fun it is to grab all of that stuff, we love to harvest! It’s nice to play with friends and find out who’s greedy!
RW: What kinda music can we expect? Will it have rock or anime-inspired tracks?
SR: Both! The soundtrack has a lot of different genres which get tied together by using similar motifs. The thing about Jitsu Squad is that the worlds are very diverse, and each world needs a soundtrack that matches the vibe, so you might hear some Cowboy Bebop/Cuphead jazz-inspired tracks on the city stage but then some crazy Japanese DnB with some Ennio Morricone influence in the next.
I love blending small details into each other to make something unique. You might hear a track that sounds totally trash metal but actually has some concepts that you will probably hear in funk a lot.
I also love old anime soundtracks like Dragon Ball, Hokuto no Ken, Ashita no Joe, Gundam Wing & Saint Seiya, and I try to pinpoint the elements that make it sound so nostalgic and implement that in the soundtrack as well.
RW: What is your favorite stage in Jitsu Squad and what makes it so awesome?
DB: That’s a tough one. I think I will go for the Primal Rage stage. I like dinosaurs, the enemies in this stage are so cool and I love the stage boss!
SR: That is hard to choose, but I think Infernia is the most awesome stage because it has so many unique gimmicks in it. You will see it when you play
RW: You say you have fighting game command inputs on your Steam page. Will Jitsu Squad have a lot of combo potential and is it accessible for newcomers?
DB: Yes sir! The input commands are like a Street Fighter “hadoken/fireball” motion to just down or up & attack. We didn’t want to make it too difficult like an actual Shoryuken (dragon punch). (Laugh) The combat needs to be accessible for everyone, but with just enough challenges for the player with fighting game skills.
We added a special hyper/combo system which happens if you time your normal combo attacks well to have more variety in your attacks, so it’s not just button mashing.
The combos in Jitsu Squad are insane! You can combine your secondary weapon attacks (which even have charge moves) with your regular attack & special moves just like in Devil May Cry for example. We’ve already seen people on YouTube perform combos that we didn’t even think that was possible so that’s great! Getting yourself surrounded by a group of bad guys could get you a combo of at least 200+! My personal record is over 1500 but Sebastien is a true master so I am sure he beats me! No doubt someone will beat us both!
RW: You can transform into all sorts of creatures in the game. Can you tell us how they work and which is your favorite?
DB: I think Hero is my favorite character. I like ninjas and his set of moves. Hero’s Fury mode and his secondary weapons are awesome!
SR: I think Aros is my favorite character. I love using big brawlers/grapplers in beat ’em up and Pieter Visser did such a great job and making him feel strong and powerful without making him slow.
Jitsu Squad is slated to release sometime in Q1 2022 for the PC. on Steam. You can wishlist it now on the digital storefront.