a review of Senko no Ronde (WarTech)
a videogame developed by G.Rev
and published by sega
for the arcades and the microsoft xbox 360
text by Brendan Lee
Most people are in complete agreement that shooters are second only to Those Rhythm Games in terms of sheer Pavlovian click-here-for-joy vacuity. If you’re the type of diehard that gets off on solitary pattern memorization – – and you’re, you know, not prone to epilepsy – – they’re pretty much the ultimate that this life has to offer you.
At least until they begin selling pre-chewed Pop Tarts.
It’s a format that’s rapidly wilting, shooters. People have, by and large, figured out the punchline; only the occasional efforts by a rambunctious, tow-headed doujin community and a handful of rickety old-skoolers have been able to slap enough maids and squirrel-voiced seiyuu into shooters to satisfy their few remaining devotees. Sadly, gamers don’t know how to move on, as a rule. They collectively realize that if you stare at a corpse long and hard enough, eventually some small movement will arise – – that it’s just the worms come to gnaw at the gristle is the sort of observation that only the pickiest of spoilsports would bother coughing into their hands.
The same innate sense of lonely isolation that has preserved the hardcore shooter fanbase is the enemy, in this age of multiplayer . . . and Senko no Ronde (flatly retitled WarTech for the Xbox 360) has the right idea. It is, in fact, a valiant effort to create a cooperative arcade culture from a fundamentally solitary gaming format. In this case, it means a mash-up: a dash of classic shooter dynamics, a jigger of close-quarters punch-up, and a large dollop swiped directly from Virtual On. The mix at least looks utterly compelling – – even if you don’t entirely buy into its Xenosaga-cum-Zegapain PastelBot regime. Any bit of the game you happen to see in motion has you sitting and playing for at least one round . . . it is its own attract mode, and it clearly knows it.
And then you play. And . . . well, it’s just kind of syrup-slow and boring, most of the time. Honestly, if they were expecting to build the same kind of army of nicotine-thumbed fighting fans that has allowed ARC to keep swapping out Guilty Gear color palettes, they should have actually given them something to keep their reflexes from going numb. The Rounders (PastelBots) move like capsule toys through delicious honey, and the Boss Mode combat has one of the worst my-turn-your-turn dynamics since Killer Instinct. The controls are intuitive enough for those with a little patience, but the way the game transitions from one battle mode to another is jarring and annoying enough to create the illusion that they aren’t. When you’re transitioning from the standard space battlefield to close-quarters combat, the camera zooms in to SHOW YOU ALL THE ACTION, and you’re immediately disoriented. When one of the PastelBots (Rounders) switches to Boss Mode, you get a little flashcard of slapdash anime clip-art and a chirpy voice to accompany the entire screen changing on you. If you’ve grown to accept random battles in RPGs and selecting FIGHT from text boxes, you’ll probably be able to shift gears along with Senko no Ronde as it shows you how many games it can try to be, but . . . I dunno, I been working on this thing where I’m less spastic lately.
And another thing: that Boss Mode. It’s . . . well, it’s damn creaky. Once the screen’s done its Big Woosh changing thing and your eyes have uncrossed, you (or your opponent) get the opportunity to be really Big and shoot a million jillion Glow Orbs all around – – just like the bosses in all those beloved shooters. It’s pointless and unnerving, especially with the Rounders inability to dodge with any speed or sensitivity . . . and it’s kind of a psychological kick in the balls for anyone who ever spent their time memorizing bullet patterns on more classically-conceptualized shooting titles. The game kind of realizes this, so don’t expect to spend much time Bossing it around – – it’s just a little Nostalgia Snack, and over before it begins. What a waste: it’s development time that could have been spent on making the normal combat more interesting and responsive.
These kinds of format mash-ups can work, on occasion . . . if you look at something like, say, Data East’s The Great Ragtimeshow, you’ll find a game that successfully blended Metal Slug‘s sense of humor and vehicular variety, the air combat of classic shooters, and an amazing feel for the era’s best platforming into a game that’s a visual feast and an utter joy (and hey, this was 1992). It takes a great deal of vision to make this kind of thing work, though, and it’s painfully obvious when a developer is just trying to ham-fist another format on top of another to help prop up weak gameplay.
Senko no Ronde, for all of the hype and keyfroth, is an also-ran: too wrapped up in making its Game Salad to remember that we’d ordered a hamburger. There may be something out there to defibrillate the paunchy mess of moe-shooters and frame-count twitch-fighters that are littering Japan’s arcades (and increasingly your Xbox 360), but this certainly ain’t it.