There’s a strong chance you’ve never played Cannon Dancer, or Osman as it’s perhaps better known to North American arcade goers. That’s the beauty of this current retro renaissance, though: we’re not only seeing the return of well-loved classics on contemporary consoles, but also obscure underground gems like this one from the Mitchell Corporation are becoming accessible for the first time. And even through a modern lens, this spiritual Strider successor holds up.
Designed by a superstar group of ex-Capcom staff, including key creative figure Kouichi Yotsui, this chunky side-scrolling beat-‘em-up first released in Japanese arcades all the way back in 1996, but never received a home console version – until now. Ratalaika Games has handled the conversion, and so those who’ve played ports like Gleylancer will be familiar with the features of its emulator wraparound, which includes various CRT filters, wallpapers, and other quality of life improvements.
You’ll get both the original Japanese release and its North American counterpart, and there are two methods of play, with one unlocking key convenience features such as rewind and save states. Unlike the rest of Ratalaika Games’ library, however, Trophies are disabled in this easier option, so you’ll need to play through Challenge Mode to earn the gongs. You do get to choose a total of two enhancements here, which include extra credits or double jumps.
The game itself is a rollercoaster ride of vivid colours and seemingly unending imagination. With a cyberpunk-style Arabian theme, you’ll play as a martial artist named Kirin, who punches his way through robotic armies and statue-esque deities. From the first explosive upper-cut through to the boss rush-esque ending, this romp is relentless, pitting you against charging trucks, giant sand monsters, and deadly open waters.
The protagonist’s acrobatic moveset and ability to scramble up sharp architectural inclines inspires memories of Strider, but launching seven years after Capcom’s inspirational effort, the gameplay feels much tighter and more gratifying overall. Armed with a special karate kick and the ability to power up and place mimics of yourself in key strategic positions, this game makes you feel incredibly capable – even when you’re burning through several credits in 60 seconds.
Despite having a sub-30 minute running time, the release fills every single frame with memorable moments, whether you’re sizing up a crooked attorney at the top of his office tower building or boarding a boat with pirates – it’s a thrill ride from start to finish. The difficulty does spike unfairly in the final stage, meaning many will struggle to see the credits without leaning into rewind and the other quality of life improvements, but this is a minor gripe in an otherwise outstanding campaign.
Cannon Dancer is an obscure underground cult classic that’s finally going to find the audience it’s always deserved. That we live in an era where games like this can be made easily accessible is worth celebrating, but even taken on its own merits, this spiritual successor to Strider is a breathless, brilliant affair. A sharp difficulty spike, common in the arcade releases of the era, feels unfair – but it won’t prevent you from falling in love with all of the high-stakes action that precedes it.