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Xbox 360 Review - 'Wartech: Senko no Ronde'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 18, 2007 @ 4:06 a.m. PDT

WarTech Senko no Ronde thrusts the player into a distant future where humanity has colonized countless new galaxies and Earth has become a planet mined for its natural resources. A violent war has erupted as nations struggle for world domination.

Genre: Fighter/Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: G.rev Ltd.
Release Date: May 29, 2007

Wartech: Senko no Ronde is a strange and unlikely title to come out in the United States. Based on a SEGA-made arcade shooter called Senko no Ronde Rev.X, it experienced a small but loyal import fan following when it was released in Japan, encouraging some gamers to discover all of the various tricks and abilities that made the most of the game, causing a fairly health fan community to spring up. Somehow, it managed to attract the attention of Ubisoft, who decided to localize this rather obscure title for the English-speaking market. While it is nice to see a company like Ubisoft taking an interest in relatively unknown titles that would otherwise never see an English release, Senko no Ronde is one title that may just be too difficult for an American audience to accept.

Combat in Wartech: Senko no Ronde is a rather bizarre mix of shooter and fighting game. Two mecha, known as Rounders, fly around a two-dimensional battlefield and attempt to kill each other. Most of the combat in Wartech is far more reminiscent of Ikaruga than Street Fighter. Each Rounder is equipped with a number of different kinds of lasers, missiles and various other kinds of weaponry. Firing these weapons sends out massive amounts of bullets, and using them wisely can cover the screen in your character's ammunition. Each round doesn't do much damage, but when the enemy has run out of room to dodge, those little bits can quickly add up. Most combat involves dodging the enemy's screen-filling attacks and countering with your own, requiring a bit more strategy than simply pounding the attack button. If two mecha get closer to each other, their primary attack switches to a melee weapon, which does fairly significant damage and can knock down the enemy for a moment.

Each Rounder has different attributes. Karel, for example, pilots a mecha equipped with a laser sniper rifle which is powerful but slow, and becomes a long-range melee weapon in close combat. Mika Mikli, the closest the game has to a main character, pilots a fairly well-rounded mecha equipped with missiles and lasers, but with a fairly short-range melee weapon. Each character can be further customized by equipping different cartridges (either Type A or Type B) before battle, thereby changing its attributes. One cartridge may make your Rounder faster but weaker, for example. That means even if two people were playing the exact same character but had equipped different cartridges, the two Rounders would not perform exactly the same. It's a neat feature, although one that isn't going to make a gigantic difference outside of online play.

The most interesting feature of the Rounders is the BOSS (or "Boost of Over-armed Shell System") mode. Each Rounder has a BOSS it can activate at the press of a button, which significantly changes gameplay. Whichever Rounder turns on their BOSS fuses with a Shell to become a giant screen-filling enemy — not unlike a boss enemy from a Gradius title. In this mode, they heal some damage and have the ability to launch incredibly powerful attacks that are very difficult to dodge. Furthermore, as long as one BOSS is activated, the other player can't activate his, forcing him to struggle to survive long enough for the BOSS to deactivate. If the enemy somehow manages to destroy your BOSS frame, your Rounder survives unharmed, although it loses any healing that would have been done at the end of the BOSS. Even more deadly is the Final BOSS mode. When a Rounder has sustained critical damage, it enters "Vanish Mode," which generally means that one more strike will take it down. If a Rounder activates its BOSS in this mode, it instead enter Final BOSS mode, which is an extra powerful version of the regular BOSS, with new moves and a fancy cut scene when it activates. These Final BOSSes can be the difference between life and death, but if the Final BOSS is destroyed, you lose the round.

Despite all of these features, the combat in Senko no Ronde just doesn't work well against computer opponents, which are far too simplistic and easy to handle. While they have a fairly basic ability to function and use their respective Rounders, they don't seem to be able to grasp basic tactics, and 90% of their combat is just shooting random lasers at your player's Rounder. Even when the AI enters BOSS mode, it just seems to spew out random lasers, rarely providing a significantly threat. Combine that with the fairly limited amount of characters, and from a gaming perspective, there is little satisfaction in beating the story mode. Sadly, even that little satisfaction is much better than the game's inane and poorly explained plot.

Senko no Ronde's story is a mess. To even get the most basic understanding of the world setting, you have to read through the built-in encyclopedia, but even once you do so, the character's plots make no sense at all. I am not sure if it is the result of an incoherent translation or just poor plotting on the game's behalf, but this problem plagues every moment of the story mode. The Rounder pilots argue and talk to one another during combat, but the events they talk about happen off-screen. A pilot may be accused of being a traitor or of performing some action, but you have no idea why, who, or how. The only time you see the pilots do anything is during combat, and everything off-screen is just assumed to have happened. It is enough to give you a headache just trying to follow it. To be fair, the game does offer branching story paths, activated by performing certain actions in combat, but these paths are just as incoherent and confusing as the main storyline. You can easily finish every character's plotline in less than 20 minutes, and the only real satisfaction gained from seeing the branching path comes from those who eagerly seek 100% completion. Otherwise, once is enough.

Outside of the game's story mode, there are a few other options available. Score Attack allows you to fight a computer opponent to achieve extra high scores, which are then uploaded to Xbox Live for other players to compete against. However, the real attraction is going to be the game's versus mode. Versus is available both on Xbox Live and against other players on the same console, and is the only thing to make up for the game's 20-minute storylines. Once you've mastered a character, you can battle them against your friends in the same way that you'd battle a computer opponent. The biggest problem here involves the obscurity of the title. While Senko no Ronde has some fans, it is far too obscure and bizarre a title to have a large following. That means that while playing on Xbox Live, the community of players is going to be very small, and finding a challenger can be difficult indeed. However, if you can manage to find someone to play against, the battles are fast, furious and a lot of fun.

While Senko no Ronde doesn't exactly push the Xbox 360 to its limits, it is still a fairly nice-looking game. The various mecha all have memorable, if not always good, designs, and the BOSS forms are excellent and intimidating, with each tending to invoke the memory of old-time shooter bosses. (One even transforms into a WWII-era styled plane that gave me flashbacks of 1942). Despite the massive amount of projectiles onscreen, there is never the smallest moment of slowdown, which is doubly important, as timing and effort is the key to avoiding the massive bullet swarms. The battlefields are fairly nice but grow a bit bland after a while; since your eyes will always be on the combat, though, this is a minor complaint.

The audio in Wartech is fairly good. The music is a weird blend of techno-rock and J-pop that works well with the massive stream of bullets flying from every direction. However, there is one element of the audio that seriously suffers: Wartech has no dub. Now, this normally wouldn't be a problem because the Japanese voices are pretty good, but all of the game's already-incoherent storyline takes place during combat. That means that if you want to even attempt to keep track of the story, you have to take you eyes off the combat to read the small text at the bottom of the screen, a problem that easily could have been solved by including a dub track. It isn't game-breaking, especially since the plot is already jumbled, but it exacerbates an already notable problem.

Wartech: Senko no Ronde could be a pretty fun online game. It's not perfect, and the limited amount of characters will quickly grow tiresome to some, but those who really enjoy the bullet wave-filled combat will enjoy testing out their skills online. However, fun online play can't make up for a completely lackluster and poorly designed single-player game. With boring AI, incoherent stories and an almost complete lack of replay value, there is very little to do if you're not playing this title on Xbox Live. Sadly, thanks to the obscurity of the game, even Live doesn't really hold enough replay value to ensure that this is worth your $60 purchase. It's excellent to see companies bringing unknown titles to the United States, and I welcome the release of obscure titles such as Senko no Ronde, but there just isn't enough game to justify its cost. A budget title like Earth Defense Force 2021 might be closer to a worthwhile purchase, but , Wartech just doesn't measure up to its price right now.

Score: 7.0/10

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