Okinawa Rush preview: full contact

If our issue 47 cover star Aragami 2 represents a more modern example of an eastern-infused action game, then Okinawa Rush harks back to the sub-genre’s 2D roots. Headed up by British developer Steven Miller, it’s a side-scrolling brawler that recalls such titles as Ninja Spirit and Dragon Ninja, but replaces their simplistic run-and-strike combat with more detailed combat mechanics.

Okinawa Rush’s brawny warriors can pull off a variety of punches and kicks, while an immensely satisfying parry system means an accurately timed hit will send a deadly ninja star pinging straight back at whoever threw it.

For Miller, Okinawa Rush began several years ago as a part-time project – a game he could work on after finishing his day’s work as a carer. As the game took shape, however, Miller’s brother David stepped in as co-designer and artist, and even took the bold step of moving from London to Steven’s neck of the woods in the Medway area so they could work more closely together.

“We were both avid gamers as children and loved the Amiga especially,” Steven Miller tells us. “That was the golden age for us. I’ve always had an intense interest in game design, from an early age – drawing mazes or stages on paper and so on.”

With the Commodore Amiga being such an important computer in Miller’s formative years, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Okinawa Rush’s resolution, colour palette, and sprite designs recall some of the system’s finest action games. “I don’t think we had a particular style in mind – it was more about what felt right in terms of the playfield,” Miller tells us.

Steven Miller and his team use Fusion2 for programming and sprite editing, while sound and music employ the likes of Audacity and MadTracker2.

“I’m sure, subconsciously, we went for an Amiga look but in a widescreen ratio. The palette evolved from 256 [colours] to 16 million while still trying to keep to the rules of working within a smaller palette. Dithering is used in a few places as a chosen aesthetic rather than a necessity – the Bitmap Brothers’ games like Gods, Speedball 2, and The Chaos Engine were big inspirations for the pixel art.”

Behind those colourful sprites, however, lies a technically impressive game that simply wouldn’t have fitted on a handful of Amiga floppy disks; there are three characters to choose from, each with their own moveset inspired by real-world martial arts; a local co-op mode where players can team up to pull off unique combos; and a lengthy campaign that unfolds over five stages.

Many of these features were gradually added as Okinawa Rush evolved from a single-player game with the handful of modes first shown off in an early demo joined by more ambitious, fleshed-out ideas. “The project evolved over time, and it didn’t have clear boundaries in place, in some respects,” Miller says.

“For example, it originally only had one playable character – and only one player – but it now has three characters, nine endings to unlock, and two-player co-op as well. So yes, it’s changed massively since its conception. It still has those survival and boss-battle modes, but there are more moves now and more dynamic features such as using the environment to your advantage.”

Okinawa Rush draws on some arcade and computer greats: Street Fighter and Ninja Spirit, and also First Samurai and Full Contact on the Amiga.

In 2017, Okinawa Rush was successfully greenlit on Steam, and also found enough backers on Kickstarter to help it cross its £10,000 minimum goal. It was at this point, Miller says, that he and his brother decided to start working on the game full-time. “The Kickstarter was quite rough, really. Hard work. This was the point we realised we couldn’t do our day jobs any longer, and the pressure from the backers is intense sometimes. Although they have, overwhelmingly, been very supportive and understanding regarding deadlines being missed.”

As the project has grown, so too has the team surrounding it – the Millers are now joined by Gary Angelone, who’s handling the console ports, French programmer Julien Magnin, and Mike ‘Brassica’ Wright, who’s providing the soundtrack. Thanks to the support of publisher PixelHeart, there’s a physical, special edition of Okinawa Rush on the way for Switch, Xbox One, and PS4, as well as PC.

It’s been a challenging couple of years for the project, with the game hitting several delays – getting it running at a smooth 60 frames per second was, Miller says, a particular hurdle. Thankfully, however, the end is in sight, with Okinawa Rush’s release planned for around Easter.

“Having backed games myself, I always hated it when they were delayed, but now I know first-hand how it feels behind the scenes,” he tells us. “If the game isn’t ready then it simply can’t be released. The struggle has been unreal at times, but we’re approaching the finish line now.”

Genre: Brawler
Format: Switch / PC / XBO / PS4
Developer: Sokaikan
Publisher: PixelHeart
Release: Spring 2021

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