The Bin: Wartech: Senko no Ronde

Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks?  This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching. 

For a console that bombed in Japan, the Xbox 360 certainly got some really unlikely (and almost loyal) support from a select few developers over there, primarily in the form of exclusive shmup releases. Owning a Japanese Xbox 360 is actually quite worthwhile if you’re shmup aficionado, and there’s other quirky releases like Idol M@aster and a couple of weird anime fighting games. A lot of these are region locked, with the occasional region free release, but over the years some of these titles did make their way outside of Japan. Some were appreciated, like Akai Katana and DoDonPachi, but others just did not have an audience outside the native territory. The one under the spotlight in this edition of The Bin is Wartech: Senko no Ronde.

Developed by G.Rev and originally released as a NAOMI arcade game in Japan, where it quickly became quite popular and was talked about a fair bit among importers. The home version was originally planned for the Dreamcast, and it would have been the perfect place for it too had it not been cancelled. For some reason the developers decided to skip that entire console generation. Even though it could have been released on the PlayStation 2 or Gamecube, for some reason they waited until the Xbox 360 to finally bring it home. Released in Japan as Senko no Ronde Rev. X, I have to admit that paying $80 to import it was a bit much given the little content and length. With most shmup releases the pricey import is justified because of their immense replay value as a single player game, but for Senko no Ronde this isn’t the case because it is essentially a shmup fighting game that simply demands human opponents. The game is best described as a cross between Virtual-ON and shmups.

Now Ubisoft felt it would be a good idea to bring the game to western audiences… and they also thought it would be a good idea to add a tacky “Wartech” to the title. To absolutely no one’s surprise the game bombed both critically (except at Hardcore Gamer, we liked it a lot… obviously) and commercially. I can understand why paying full RRP would have made a lot of gamers feel cheated, as there’s barely any single player content to keep you occupied for more than an hour. The online multiplayer mode, which probably would have been the meat of the package, got little to no local community support. You’d have to wait for ages to enter a lag filled session with a Japanese player.

In hindsight it wasn’t wise to localize the game, as it was almost guaranteed to crash and hit the bargain heap of shame. Ubisoft may have been a little optimistic too, as there are still plenty of copies floating around. Senko no Ronde was really an acquired taste, those who had a real appreciation for its finer qualities were going to import it well in advance anyway.

At the full retail price I’d suggest a lot of people to shy away from Senko no Ronde, but for less than ten bucks (with current listings averaging at $5) there is certainly enough reason to check out one of the more obscure exclusives on the Xbox 360. Unlike the objectively broken and flawed disaster that was Bullet Witch, which also came out the same year, Senko no Ronde is really worth checking out for the pennies it demands today.

For one thing there’s nothing really wrong with the game per se, just that as a package it was far too bare-bones for an industry that had evolved far beyond the days of “here’s a perfect port of Sega Rally and that will be all..yay!”. It also doesn’t help that the online community for this game is practically dinosaur extinct, but what you do still get is a nicely enhanced port of a very unique arcade fighter.

From the outset Senko no Ronde plays a lot like Virtual-On; when you’re at a distance from your opponent you utilize ranged attacks, and soon as you get up close the camera zooms in and the same inputs initiate some cool melee combos. It’s almost similar Sega’s mech combat classic, except in Senko no Ronde you’re floating around an empty space where you’re free to boost around.

With eight stylistically designed mechs called “Rounders” to choose from, there’s actually a fairly decent contrasting variety in play-styles ranging from long range sniper specialists to close range combo machines. Apart from hammering the attack/fire button, each Rounder also has a range of special moves which require command inputs akin to a fighting game. However, the real hook of Senko no Ronde isn’t it being an alternative Virtual-On, but rather the shmup elements of it. The shmup influence is immediately apparent with the visual cluttered (bullet hell) appearance of the ranged projectile attacks, but even more so in the B.O.S.S. transformation that each of the Rounders can perform.

When you battle the titanic behemoth bosses in a typical shmup, it’s your tiny little speck of a ship going up against something that fills up half the screen with its onslaught of bullets filling up the rest of it. If you ever wished for the tables to turn in those situations, then Senko no Rondo does exactly that with the B.O.S.S. transformation. It gives players an opportunity to experience what it feels like to be the boss battle for a change, and it’s a pretty empowering feeling to say the least. Shmup players have always been forced to survive the worst kinds of bullet hell, but for once they can unleash that on somebody else.

With the press of a trigger your Rounder transforms into a screen-filling battleship, and for a brief time you can obliterate your opponent with a merciless bullet hell wave. Of course these transformations are limited, just like a bomb stock in your typical shmup, and they last for brief time. So these rare opportunities of pure power need to be used wisely.

I think it’s clear by now that Senko no Ronde has a lot of substance and depth if you really take the time to learn the game. Spamming buttons can get you by, but when I had the opportunity to go up against legitimate Japanese players, they made me appreciate the strategic depth of the title. For a more informed player, there’s no random spamming of missiles and dashing around, it’s all about managing the space between you and your opponent and precisely landing blows. Notice the orbits/rings around the Rounder? that’s no fancy HUD presentation, that’s meant to help plan your attacks and the distance from your foe (took me a while to really pay attention to that!). It’s really one of those cases where a game is dead simple to get into, but extremely difficult to master.

For what it’s worth, Senko no Ronde is actually a good game, in fact it did well enough in Japan to warrant a bigger and better sequel titled Senko no Ronde: DUO. This far more fleshed out sequel would even be released for the Xbox 360 in Japan, this time with substantial single player value. Not surprisingly this region-locked release never left Japan, which is a shame because I think the localization actually would have fared better than its predecessor (not a whole lot, but still).

Wartech: Senko no Ronde is a really well made, balanced and unique fighting game that is certainly good for what it is, even if the home release wasn’t the best value proposition. But for $5 or so, it’s worth sitting down and playing the game by yourself just to see some well executed creativity in action. If you have any interest in shmups, or if you happen to be a fan of Virtual-ON, then there’s no harm sacrificing a little pocket change to try something quirky and fun. If you somehow manage to find like minded players to explore the game with, then that’s even better.

Dig deeper into The Bin. Head here for more guilty pleasures in gaming.