Reviews  |  Naomi

Senko no Ronde

By Alex Kierkegaard / March 18, 2007

In G.rev's third arcade game players control robots called "Rounders" and square off against each other using a variety of offensive and defensive techniques. Rounders dance around the screen spewing out bullet patterns borrowed from manic shooters, or transform into bosses in order to unleash even more overwhelming attacks. Though 3D graphics are used throughout, battles are viewed from a top-down perspective and are constrained to a single plane, so the feel of the game is very much 2D.


Most people would agree that Senko no Ronde looks like a lot of fun when two good players are going at it, but I've discovered that one's initial experience will vary wildly depending on their gaming background. So for the purposes of this review I've divided the arcade community into two groups: those who are into Sega's Virtual On series, and those who are into shooting games (PROTIP: If you don't fall into either of these groups you are reading the wrong website.)

Now Virtual On fans will get this game right away, so there's little I have to say to them: Senko no Ronde is in effect a 2D version of Virtual On, and it's damn good. Go play it.

STG players, on the other hand, usually have trouble appreciating and enjoying this game.

First impressions coming from shooter fans are almost always negative: there are too many buttons, too many moves, the controls seem sluggish -- they've got no idea what the hell is going on, and it's all over before they get a chance to find out. In their defence they are led to expect one thing and end up getting quite another. G.rev is promoting Senko as a versus shooting game -- which is correct if you want to get technical (it's versus, and you shoot) -- but the truth is it that it feels nothing like an STG.


The problem is mainly the controls. Though you can't tell this by watching a video, the game feels as if the stages were submerged in a slightly viscous fluid. The backgrounds zoom in and out and whizz by all over the place of their own accord, often giving the impression of great speed, but this can't hide the fact that even the fastest Rounders move far too slow. Dodging some of the fiercer bullet patterns is impossible for this reason. There is a dash you can use to speed yourself up, but it's a very imprecise and unreliable move: use it at the wrong time and you'll likely end up dashing right into a swarm of bullets.

So basically the dodging largely sucks. Unfortunately, the shooting doesn't feel quite right either.

Consider the main weapon, which is supposed to resemble the regular shot found in STGs. This weapon needs to be reloaded from time to time (something which happens automatically), so you often find yourself hammering on the fire button without actually firing anything. The sub weapon is even more annoying in this respect, because it takes far more time to reload. All this is in keeping with the robot theme of the game, of course, but it will turn off anyone who's expecting the instant response and pixel-perfect accuracy of a real shooting game.


So to appreciate Senko no Ronde if you are an STG fan you'll have to cast aside your expectations (falsely drummed up by G.rev's marketing scheme -- after all they did get arcade operators to stick Senko right in the middle of their STG sections, instead of next to all the Virtual On/versus Gundam games), and prepare yourself to try something completely new. If you do that you'll eventually discover that in the context of the game the floaty motion and constant reloading actually work, to an extent. Certainly, you won't be able to dodge many of the bullet patterns, but that's why you have a huge armor gauge, the barrier (i.e. shield), and the boss mode which can be used to regain armor. And yes, your main weapon may be fiddly and not always available, but you've got a bunch of other weapons in your arsenal, and besides your opponents all have to cope with the same limitations.

Get beyond the control issues then, and you'll find that most other aspects of Senko are highly refined.

The setup is identical to most any fighting game you've ever played, and is therefore refined by definition. You pick one of the eight available characters, each of them piloting a Rounder with different weapon types and abilities (some have more powerful attacks, others have a higher defense rating, etc.), and go through the story mode while occasionally taking on human opponents who decide to get in your way.

Learning the basics doesn't take long. A couple of credits if someone's teaching you, or perhaps five-six if you are learning on your own. You have two simple attacks and a more complex one (called the "barrage"), as well as the barrier and the dash move I already mentioned. When you find yourself in trouble you can go into boss mode, which allows you to fill the screen with bullets and gives you a chance to regain back any armor you may have lost. That's really all you need to know to beat story mode and snatch the odd round from a match against another player. And that's really all it takes to get you hooked.


Dashing around your opponent; dodging his attacks while pulling off one special move after another; closing in for a melee attack and getting back out again -- this stuff has never been done before, not quite this way. When paired with an opponent of roughly equal skill there is, at the moment, nothing else in an arcade I'd rather be playing. And the action never grows stale. When you are ready to get beyond the basics, Senko's system delivers enough depth to keep you experimenting for months.

You soon figure out that besides your armor gauge you also need to keep an eye on the charge gauge right beneath it, which allows you to activate the barrier or perform the more unique moves, such as the barrage or the handful of character-specific command moves. This gauge fills up as time goes by, but you can speed up the process in a number of ways (by dealing damage to your opponent, for example). And eventually you start using the powerful close-range attacks, the dash cancel (simply press the dash button while in mid-dash), the Antifield (a shockwave that destroys incoming bullets -- mostly activated automatically to prevent infinites), and the risky Overdrive mode (causes charge gauge recovery to accelerate, but slowly drains your armor gauge, in addition to other harmful effects).


Unfortunately the control issues never quite go away. Though it's true that the better you get at the game the less they will bother you, you will find yourself getting repeatedly comboed because of the slow response time. And as great as the boss mode and the close-range attacks are, they are both handled clumsily: the bosses respond with a huge amount of lag, and it's anyone's guess if all but the most well-timed close-range attacks will find their target or land on empty air.

But despite all that, Senko somehow manages to become compulsive. Those who give it the chance to work its magic on them will find themselves drawn back to it long after they've sussed out all the intricacies of the system, and figured out every move of their chosen character. G.rev took a huge gamble with this game, and it paid off. Now they'd do well to improve it, before someone else does.

For a detailed look at how Senko works, check dai jou bu's translation of G.rev's official system explanation. It's based on the 360 port, but apart from the button setup everything remains the same. Also note that the videos and the last screen in this review are taken from Senko no Ronde NEW VER., a slightly updated version of the original game.