Cannon Dancer - Osman Review

Smashing onto consoles after nearly 30 years

By Paul Hunter

The '90s was the golden age of hack-and-slash platformers in the arcades and on home consoles. But with so many of these games releasing at the time, it took a lot for one to stand out: One that did is Capcom's Strider, considered an all-time platforming great.

Cannon Dancer, known as Osman in the West, is the spiritual successor to Strider and amazingly enough had an arcade release in 1996 but was never ported to home consoles. That is until now, with publisher ININ Games reviving and enhancing this gem on PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox consoles. Development of this faithfully ported version of Cannon Dancer was even overseen by key members of the original game, including ex-Capcom game designer Kouichi Yotsui (director of Strider) and artist Takashi Kogure (better known as "Utata Kiyoshi").

Despite never getting a chance to play Cannon Dancer in the arcades, the pre-release trailers and buzz were enough to get me invested. I've now had the game for about a week and it's definitely one that doesn't disappoint. Let's take a closer look, here are four things I like about Cannon Dancer - Osman...and one I don't.

Liked: Off The Wall Story

Platformer beat 'em ups are all about the action and certainly don't need a solid supporting story, but when they do have an interesting plot that's definitely a plus. Cannon Dancer fits that mould with its intriguing narrative setup and a surprising amount of twists along the journey. The game features a good amount of mid-level and end-of-level cutscenes peppered throughout its six levels, and even better, dialogue moments usually have accompanying pop-up visuals of the characters—all hand-drawn I might add.

Cannon Dancer is set in a dystopian late 21st century where the world is controlled by a single, powerful federal government. One day, an evil sorceress named "Abdullah the Slaver" appears and starts taking over the world, resulting in mass global panic and fear. Judicial Affairs Director, Jack Layzon, calls up a lone assassin called Kirin to help his administration get out of this mess.

As you battle your way through the adventure you'll get to know Abdullah and Layzon better and neither one end up like they initially seem. You'll also come face-to-face with members of the "Teki" mercenary unit, of which Kirin is a part, yet they want him dead for personal reasons. You'll end up fighting members of Teki in dramatic boss battles complete with short dialogue moments to better explain why they're out to kill him.

The story overall is quite silly, but that's the appeal and it seems quite intentional. I really enjoyed the amazing hand-drawn portraits of the main characters, and how dialogue moments can suddenly happen mid-stage at any time—a rarity for this genre. The chatter also helps to frame some of the bosses you fight, giving them a bit of backstory and context to explain their hostility towards Kirin.

I also have to mention the nice cyberpunk Arabian setting, which gives the game a unique visual flair and is a backdrop you rarely see in these types of games.

Liked: All Action

Whereas in Strider you got a deadly plasma sword, Cannon Dancer goes back to basics with a good old savage punch and kick beat-down party. But don't expect grounded combat like in Double Dragon, as Kirin fights with as much flash and style as its Strider inspiration.

Kirin starts the game with straightforward combat involving mostly deadly kick strikes that can literally snap bodies and machines in half. But his offence quickly accelerates as you grab red capsule orbs that create body doubles of himself and effectively multiply his brutal attacks. Much like Johnny Cage's famous shadow kick, a powered-up Kirin can have up to four body images that all strike a fraction of a second after one another, inflicting deadly damage. Grab one more red orb and your attack range will get extended with your kicks getting surrounded by a white flash very reminiscent of Strider, cool!

Action in Cannon Dancer is fast and relentless. On top of the basic soldiers that swarm you in droves, you'll also have to contend with battle machines like laser robots and combat drones, plus aggressive animals like tigers and scorpions. It's great fun tearing through enemies like butter given how powerful Kirin is, but it's easy to get overwhelmed if you don't take them out fast. Each level seems to introduce another new enemy or two which really helps to keep the combat fresh.

On top of smashing foes into next week, Kirin can also perform slide throws that kill most common enemies and for stronger foes can put distance between you. My favourite move in Kirin's arsenal though is his devastating suplex that's as funny as it sounds. Channelling Brock Lesnar energy, you'll air grab and flip baddies on their head, dishing out enormous damage. Not only is it hilarious to suplex tigers or jet-pack soldiers out of the air, but you can chain suplex multiple enemies in a row. Suplexing is such a big deal in this game about half the trophies are obtained by suplexing every enemy type. Awesome, lol.

Liked: The Cheats

Cannon Dancer is a game everyone can have fun with thanks to a plethora of cheats that are readily available before starting each game. You can flick on a double jump, invincible jump, slide and attack, or give yourself three or six extra credits to help you complete the game. You can even increase your attack speed up to five notches, and at the max speed, your kicks literally become a blur. With so many optional cheats you can completely customize the challenge, all the way from the traditional tough-as-nails arcade experience to an easy-breeze invincible run.

Trophy hunters never fear though: Cannon Dancer features a "Standard" mode where all cheats can be enabled but trophies are disabled, and a "Challenge" mode that gives you the full arcade experience and is the only spot to earn achievements. You can, however, still choose two cheats in Challenge mode if you want and still earn the trophies and Platinum for your collection.

It's really awesome that all the cheats are readily available and allow you to play however your mood strikes you at the time. I played lots of traditional arcade runs with no cheats and limited credits to test my skills and improve my gameplay. But I also had a blast doing runs with specific cheats on, like adding the double jump to help with navigation or doing a turbo-attack run just to feel the power rush. The game also features some nice quality-of-life enhancements including rewind and fast-forward features, graphic filters and shaders for that true retro experience, and save states in case you need to take a break mid-run.

Liked: Exotic Locations

Cannon Dancer is a very visually stunning retro game that looks great on modern TVs. The game's six stages take place in unique biomes from a psychedelic cyberpunk-inspired city to a sandy desert filled with creepy crawlies to an ocean level on hoverboards. ININ's development team did a fantastic job porting this game to consoles and keeping the graphics faithful to the colourful original.

Didn't Like: Slim Content

I had a blast with Cannon Dancer but its six stages can be cleared in about an hour and I got the Platinum trophy by the second hour. The game is certainly highly replayable and I've already beaten it six times already, but this game really should have more modes (e.g. boss rush, mirror mode, etc.) or perhaps a game retrospective section to add more longevity and value. On the bright side, it does pack in the Western and Japanese versions of the game so you can check out both versions.

The Verdict

From the very first suplex all the way to the explosive boss-gauntlet final stage, I had a blast playing Cannon Dancer - Osman. It's such an amazing game and I have no idea how this game slipped past me in the arcades in the '90s, but I'm glad I got to experience this gem on my PS5. If you like Strider or retro beat 'em ups this game brings the heat and is a must for your collection.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

Cannon Dancer - Osman details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Mitchell Corporation
Publisher: ININ Games
Genre: Platformer, Beat 'em Up
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.