Reviewed: June 24, 2007
Released: May 22, 2007
Japanese gamers have traditionally been quite reluctant to adopt the Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles over their hometown favorite Playstation 2 and 3. But that hasn’t stopped a handful of Japanese developers from utilizing the beefy power of Microsoft’s machines to produce an exclusive line of seriously cool games. Titles like Ninja Gaiden, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Otogi, Lost Planet, and Dead Rising have definitely earned respect amongst gamers worldwide. Still, other than the minor spikes in Japanese console sales that typically accompany these top-shelf releases, the Xbox family continues to lose ground in the Far East.
American gamers on the other hand, tend to be a bit tentative about Japanese niche titles – and for good reason, since Japanese titles tend to be overly repetitious and difficult in their action, and a tad bit quirky and shallow in their storylines. While this sometimes works (Ninja Gaiden), it more often fails miserably (ever heard of Gundam?).
WarTech Senko no Ronde is the latest in the cross-continental transplant to come from the Far East. The title’s original Japanese release – under the name Senko no Ronde – came about as close as an Xbox game can come to being a blockbuster hit in Japan. For that reason, Ubisoft decided to import the title to the west, tacking “WarTech” to the title in an attempt to attract western gamers.
If ever there were a niche Japanese game, Wartech is it. And if you have no idea what I mean by a niche Japanese game is, here is the recipe:
You start with a handful of pasty-eyed Japanese school kids; the boys look like girls, and the girls have huge boobs and revealing outfits. You add a handful of flying mech suits; but not your normal Voltron-inspired mech suits, these are mech suits that have accessories like, well…bunny ears, boobs, flowers and a bunch of other stuff that you don’t generally associate with giant fighting robots. To finish it off, you add a bunch of taunting and showboating amongst the girly-boys and their barely legal female counterparts – what is commonly called the “barely discernable storyline”.
By carefully mixing equal parts of each of these ingredients, you come up with a textbook niche Japanese game like WarTech – which blends together some of the most absolutely absurd gameplay ideas and actually come out with a mildly enjoyable shooter-meets-fighter hybrid.
Why the developers chose to go with the girly-boys, booby-girls, and bunny-bots – I don’t know. Thankfully, this stuff does not detract from the interesting gameplay, which comes across as a neat mix between a 2D fighting game and a shooter like Geometry Wars.
While most reviewers are touting this gameplay mix as something new, we have seen this before in titles like Robotech, Zone of the Enders (for the PS2) and some of the aforementioned Gundam turds. But for this generation of consoles, this really is one of the more interesting takes on the formula.
Much like a fighting game, WarTech tasks the gamer with choosing one of eight characters to follow through their 30-40 minute storyline, which is nothing more than a series of increasingly difficult battles.
The battlegrounds are laid out across a 2D plane in the sky. A ring defining the border between “ranged” and “close” combat encircles the enemy combatant – and being on either side of the line will determine the type of attack will be carried out by the common command.
Most of the battle takes the form of ballistic weapons – of either the single-shot or barrage flavor. Character also have a few unique fighting-style throws and power-ups, and each has a special B.O.S.S. mode which transforms the character into a nearly infallible mega-boss for a limited period of time.
The real strategy comes in maintaining the combined power and health meter, which is drained at increasingly greater rates for increasingly more powerful attacks. So, while it may seem smart to jump right into B.O.S.S. mode and beat down the opponent at the outset of the round, the loss of power associated with the B.O.S.S. mode will leave the gamer in an incredibly vulnerable position until the power meter can recharge. Vulnerable enough, in fact, that a few quick pops from the enemy could easily turn the tables and end the round.
AI opponents can also muster up B.O.S.S. modes of their own, laying down a nearly unavoidable shower of flames, lasers and missiles. As the screen get filled with more and more deadly fire, the one hope is the fumbly overshield which never seems to do as much help as it should.
With an hour or so of patient gaming, most gamers can nail the timing of their attacks to rapidly defeat a string of enemies on the way through the half-hour or so of disjointed storyline each character carries. And gamers can never shake the threat of immediate (and often cheat-worthy) death by an enemy’s single well-timed attack.
And really this is where the game falters most; it just isn’t that deep or rewarding in the gameplay, and each round feels more like a crapshoot than an actual exercise in skill.
Considering what is here, WarTech looks really nice – especially in HD. Much like the cult classic Geometry Wars; background scenery is all but nonexistent, but the awesome use of lighting, colors, and the incredible visual effects definitely make up for any shortcomings the backgrounds might indicate.
The overall look utilized a big-eyed anime-inspired style. The storyline segments use old-school pop-up windows containing a series still shots of the characters, with animations laid over their mouths to represent speech. The mech animations are large and overly exaggerated, with sweeping camera zooms to try to maintain a sense of excitement.
The real star of the show is the amazing amount of detail that has been given to the weapons and their ballistics; everything has an amazing level of shading and color, making for a near-perfect three-dimensional depth. The missiles look realistic, and have some of the most impressive vapor trailing I have ever seen. The lasers are bright and colorful, and definitely look like they have more shape than a simple line across the screen. Explosions are spectacular, with top-shelf particle effects and lingering debris.
Whereas the visuals are definitely worth checking out, the sound quality is not. The Japanese don’t seem to put as much emphasis on sound quality – but while we reviewers generally would chalk up the poor sound to its ambivalent cultural heritage, WarTech is just plain hard on the ears.
The music is horrible mix of midi sounding cartoon rock. The character voiceovers – all in Japanese – are irritating to listen to and obviously impossible to understand. Even the awesome visual effects are laden with a lackluster lot of generic booms and crashes.
Considering that each of the eight characters’ stories can be completed in about 25 minutes, there is about four hours of total gameplay. Not bad, considering the Achievement Point tie-ins, and online play through Xbox Live. Still, there is something about WarTech that just isn’t right; a low-budget shallowness that really brings question to its $60 price tag.
Considering the recent increase in top-shelf Xbox Live Arcade games that have been showing up on Live for ten bucks or less, it is difficult to justify the full purchase price for a game that just is not grade-A material. Maybe $20, $30, or even $40 would turn some heads, but definitely not $60.
WarTech is definitely a niche Japanese import that is going to appeal to a very distinct audience. And to be honest, it is not all that bad a game overall. But the simple fact that it carries the full purchase price compels us to judge it against other full-priced titles, and it that case it just doesn’t make the cut.
WarTech would be perfect as a budget release, or even better in the Xbox Live Arcade library, but it definitely doesn’t have the legs to stand on the top shelf against the other big-name releases hitting the streets.