Aside from some XBLA offerings, Xbox 360 owners have been deprived of any real ‘shmup’ action, leaving fans of the genre starved for their fix. Fortunately, Ubisoft has come to the rescue with a mech-piloting fighting/shooting/shmup hybrid that should satisfy the needs of die-hard fans, but might leave casual fans of the genre unfulfilled. It’s also got some fairly major blunders that prevent it from living up to its full potential, but don‘t prevent it from providing a worthwhile experience overall.
Combining the hand-to-hand mechanical battles of the PlayStation and Saturn game Robo Pit with the fast pace of Sega’s Virtual On series, the high-flying projectile and hand-to-hand fighting of the Psychic Force series, and traditional ‘shmups’ like Giga Wing and Ikaruga seems like an impossible feat in theory. Fortunately, Wartech Senko no Ronde ends up doing them all justice, and acts as a well-executed amalgamation of various genres that blend together in a seamless manner, while featuring new gameplay twists and innovations that help set it apart from anything else on the market today.
I found that the blend of Virtual On’s incredibly fast gameplay and the projective warfare of traditional ‘shmups’ came together better than anything else. When the game is specifically played like that (which is really only possible through Live or traditional multi-player, as the odds are minimal that an AI foe with fight that way), you get a fast-paced battle that keeps you on your toes as you have to bob and weave out of the path of oncoming projectiles as quickly as possible, and also have to adjust your position to make sure that when you‘re in the proper position, you can retaliate.
When the more powerful character-specific special moves aren’t overused, or used at all, these battles can get quite lengthy and feel incredibly rewarding to win because even though the action in them is fast, damage doesn‘t pile up as quickly as it does when you stick to hand-to-hand combat, which is probably the second-most viscerally enjoyable way to win.
Without a doubt, the most enjoyable way to win is to transform into the game’s B.O.S.S. mode, which allows you (and your foe) to morph into a humongous boss character once per battle. Nothing quite tops morphing into a boss that takes the form of a giant sword, swinging once, and winning. This is the most notable innovation in the game, and the most fun to enact. It’s even fun to be a victim of it, as the challenge increases greatly if you’re A. on the receiving end of a B.O.S.S. transformation, and B. have very little health. My most rewarding victory yet came from having about 10% of my life left, fighting a B.O.S.S. form, dodging its attacks until the form wore off, and then beating the normal form with a punch combination.
The biggest problem I have with Senko no Ronde lies in its camera. Most of the time, it’s so far away from the action that it’s hard to tell exactly where you are in relation to your opponent, or which direction you or your foe are facing. This frequently leads to taking needless damage, and death isn’t an uncommon occurrence when it happens in extremely difficult battles where you‘re under heavy gunfire.
Despite that flaw, Senko no Ronde remains enjoyable to play because of how well-done all of the gameplay elements are. The sharp controls also help that out, as the Street Fighter II-esque button combos required to do the character-specific attacks are easy to pull off, even with the 360’s slipshod d-pad. Beyond those moves, nearly every other major command can be done with just a single press of a button, which keeps things simple for players who don’t want to use special attacks, and lessens the learning curve a bit.
Senko no Ronde’s graphics are impressive given how much is going on at one time, but isn’t the kind of game that will WOW you in screenshots. Most visual elements are solid, with the ships looking well-defined and easy to tell apart from each other, and they don’t blend in too much with their surrounds. Gunfire is easy to see as well, and there’s no slowdown during either regular or boss battles. Transforming into a boss is not only easy to do, but it’s got a fancy animation alongside it that looks cool, and isn't too jarring during regular play.
The game’s story is razor-thin and is told mostly through small text that appears during gameplay that is hard to see on SDTVs. The text’s light colors often blends in with either the color of the background or gunfire, which gets in the way of the action at times, as you’re left with the choice of either trying to read the text and understand the plot, and take heavy gunfire as a result, or just skipping the story altogether and focusing on the shots coming at you. That’s quite a blunder, but since the plot has no bearing on the gameplay, and makes little sense even when you can read it, I don't really mind it being butchered here. What bugs me more than anything else about it is that it gets in the way of gameplay at times.
Luckily, the audio fares better than the story (by far). All of the music fits the gameplay perfectly, as the slower songs fit the tense boss battles, the faster songs fit the ’shmup’ action, and the loud, fast metal songs fit the violent close-range combat. Unfortunately, the music isn’t all that memorable outside the game, but it doest add a lot to the experience anyway.
Senko no Ronde’s sound effects are quite loud, but also very effective. Close-range punches sound absolutely vile, as metal smashes into metal, loud ’clanks’ are heard, and the victim goes flying in the opposite direction. For projective-based combat, you’ll hear loud lasers and gunfire tear through metal, with the effects getting louder as the damage increases and more powerful attacks are unleashed. The voice work is absurdly great, as nearly everything is spoken in a high-pitched, exaggerated manner, making already-absurd story that much funnier.
While it suffers from some crippling camera problems at times, has text that is difficult to read without an HDTV, and has quite possibly the most nonsensical plot I’ve ever encountered in a game, Wartech Sekno no Ronde is an incredibly fun game despite its problems. Thanks to its robust gameplay, it can be enjoyed by either casual or dedicated fans of ‘shmups’ and I found it to be a welcome addition to my 360’s gaming library. Thanks to its sharp AI, the skilled Xbox Live competition, and its slew of unlockable features (including the arcade original’s story mode), Senko no Ronde has an incredibly high replay value as well. If you’ve been craving some shooting action on the 360 and aren’t satisfied with the Live Arcade’s wares, this is be game for you. If you’re new to the genre, it would be wise to either rent it first or wait for a price drop, as its $60 price tag is too high to take a gamble on.