It’s tough to create a fighting game and carve out even a small slice of a dedicated community. Indie devs, even more so than triple-A studios, face big obstacles: netplay being practically a requirement, a steady stream of content or balancing, and–most of all–a compelling, standout system. Slice, Dice & Rice from Dojo Games made its initial mark with a unique name and loose inspirations from PSone-era Bushido Blade. But can comparisons to big names alone attract players to give this dueling game a try?
Hell-themed SDR, sprinkled with Japanese names and references, pits its fighters in lightning-quick duels to the death. Everyone has the same basic attacks: a quick horizontal slash, a powerful heavy attack that can’t be parried, and an anti-air vertical slash. Everyone can jump, air-dash, parry, as well as dash-cancel or parry-cancel their attacks before they come out. Sounds broken? In practice, it just turns the game into a sudden death dance. Not every strike ends the duel, though. If hit with a tip of a blade or otherwise nicked, ‘tis but a flesh wound. It’s possible to get wounded enough to be unable to jump, but it’s quite rare to occur.
The cast includes eight characters. You’ve got your standard samurai with a sword and a large parry window, speedy bird-like Tengu, fist-fighter Benkei, and creepy deathlord Shinigami. All in all, the cast is diverse, distinct, with unique appeal. Whichever character you play, the duels turn into series of baits, parries, cancels, and missed strikes, but they have the potential to end in one decisive blow. There is a bit of an Arc System Works air-dasher feel, as all characters can jump and air-dash, almost in slow motion a la’ House of Flying Daggers.
There is good character diversity, despite the lack of a special attacks. Benkei has only fists and a two-hit combo, which feels a little pointless, since the second attack can still be parried anyway (it does open up possibilities for mindgames, though). His parry is actually a counterattack. However, he needs generally more hits to score a kill, so he feels very underwhelming as a character. Why pick him when you can go with someone who can more easily score a decisive blow? Sexy fighter Tomoe feels much more viable with her quick dashes, though her divekick looks awkwardly animated as it auto-corrects and switches sides at the last moment. It also felt like the designers couldn’t decide which air moves stop momentum and which keep it up. Her normal air slash awkwardly makes her go backward if you air-dash forward.
The only issue with the matchups is that counter-picking would be a problem in a competitive environment. It seems that some characters can beat each other so cleanly, it’s easy enough to boost one’s chances just by switching. And while the fighters feel distinct, it’s not really difficult to just play another one, since there are no moves to learn. Either blind-picks or accepting the fact that everyone will counterpick each other is the reality Slice, Dice & Rice faces in a competitive environment. Why pick a character who sometimes needs to land multiple strikes over someone who is much more likely to end the duel immediately?
For example, I pit Yojimbo against Yoketsu. Yojimbo carries his sword sheathed, and his moveset seems to suggest a high-skill-ceiling character. He has one of the slowest air-to-ground “helmbreaker” slashes and a very short window on his parry. Yoketsu wields her huge sword like Siegfried from Soul Calibur, can easily backdash his charging attack and punish. It seems like a painful match-up for Yojimbo, who does have a fast slash, but many weaknesses. Yoketu’s parry is also unique in that it also hits, so even if you miss a parry, you always interrupt a slower attack. It seems really strong. She also has super armor on one of her slashes. It feels as though there are a lot of beneficial mechanics are piled up on her.
Online play is a glaring omission, especially since the fighting game community is so scattered. It wouldn’t be too difficult to bring a laptop to casuals and ask some people to check it out, but quality online play is a big factor in keeping it the game alive. This should help counter-picking (at least in game one). Simultaneously, without a near-perfect connection, duels might turn out messy lag-fests and lose out on the calm precision of local duels. Dojo Games wants to see how the community will receive the game first; netplay is something they said they are considering.
Story Mode is mostly an Arcade Mode with entertaining, poetic passages between fights and occasional basic dialogue between fighters. Rice does actually play a role in the tale… and it’s pretty ridiculous. There are a couple of interesting fights, with some “boss” versions of existing characters, some unlockable in-game.
It also introduces us to Unagi, the only “resource” in the game. When the enemy is about to strike, there will be a red warning circle, and the game slows down a bit. The slowdown is a bit unwarranted because it only messes up the typical parry timing that you might have practiced. It was hard to tell sometimes if it was Unagi slowing my game down, or small performance hiccups.
Performance, sadly, is a bit of an issue. I tested on my mid-range laptop, and overall the game runs fine (apart from some random crashes which happened to occur a lot, just when I took the device to a local gaming venue). There’s a way to reduce graphics quality, though it doesn’t feel like the visuals get noticeably worse. The visual and audio aesthetic is really well done. SDR is made in Unity, which is known to be a bit of a resource hog.
What hurts the game more are strange hitches in framerate. Maybe this would be less of a problem (and I initially didn’t realize that Unagi slows down the game a bit, so some of this is probably in the mix as well) if I had a more powerful device, but a smooth framerate and performance is something the creators should strongly prioritize. If Dojo Games imagines players bringing their game to locals or tournaments, it’s not going to work well because mobile computers often don’t have the same capabilities as stationary machines. Games like Divekick or Nidhogg, SDR’s most direct competition, can run on toasters with Windows XP. Adjusting the settings does help a lot, though.
As this was a beta build of SDR, hopefully, some of the performance issues can be smoothed out. There are still a few obstacles in the game’s way to popularity–like lack of netplay, characters that seem a little unbalanced, and some performance issues–but Dojo Games can work it out, with some polish. If you’re into similar dueling games, but wanted something a little more technical than the speedy Nidhogg, you’re probably going to like Slice, Dice & Rice. I’d recommend at least giving the game a shot, because the potential is there–but it needs more polish and better clarity in the game mechanics it’s trying to implement.
Slice, Dice & Rice is out on Steam today for a limited-time discounted launch price of $8.79 (20% off of the full price of $10.99).
[Editor’s note: Dojo Games provided Shoryuken with a review copy.]