Have you ever dreamed of playing as the boss in a shoot ’em up, rather than the small-but-heroic ship? Wished that you were the one taking up most of the screen, against another player, who’s in their tiny vessel, doing their best to at least survive the barrage of attacks you’re unleashing? You have overpowered beams, bullet-hell-style waves that fill the screen, and whatever else the Boss Mode allows. This is just one aspect of Senko no Ronde 2, a hybrid shooter and fighting game that beamed over to the Western market recently.
The series originally hails from the Japanese arcades in 2005, succeeded by an Xbox 360 port called WarTech: Senko no Ronde. Senko no Ronde 2 is essentially a reboot of the series’ first title for proper release in the West. For the first time, the game’s extensive Story Mode is translated into English. Taking place far in the future, after Earth is no longer inhabitable, the game’s world involves warring government factions across the galaxy. When a terrorist unit strikes and steals a valuable weapon, it changes the balance of power. New combatants arise, but their motives aren’t entirely known.
That’s the gist of the story, which should satisfy anime/visual novel fans, but I didn’t have an opportunity to delve into that when I tried the game at CEOtaku. Rather than reading and listening to Japanese-voiced dialogue, I braved a somewhat complicated battle system and tried a variety of pilots and co-pilots with a goal of blasting my opposition into stardust.
Jumping into Versus Mode, a screen familiar to fighting game players greets the eyes. A row of faces displays available pilots. Pressing up or down changes the co-pilot, which mostly changes a cooldown ability of a pilot. Every character differs pretty significantly from one another by ship, main weapon and subweapon, Barrage attack, and Boss Mode. That last mechanic uses “stock” which is gained between rounds. Players can enter their Boss version at any time, which turns them into a giant ship for a limited duration, dependant on how much power meter they had. It also restores health. Playable either on arcade stick or gamepad, the controls are in-depth, but not too overwhelming.
Battles take place in round stages with a variety of backgrounds. The combat is mostly a dance of two shooting ships. A dash button allows swift strafing while pressing two buttons for standard attacks. Lev, the first character, has a relatively boring gatling gun and a jelly gun which leaves a damaging trail. His Boss Mode was more interesting; you can fire a wide spread of bullets to fill the screen, which I used to set up a narrower but much more damaging beam. I much more enjoyed Jasper, who mounts the Saiga. A ninja-like ship, Jasper’s subweapon places smoke clouds around the screen and four markers, up, down, left, and right, allowing him to teleport to either one. This lets him easily get close for melee attacks. I also resonated with Ranatus, who’s more of a typical zoner. Her weapons are either a wide spread of projectiles or a focused, damaging beam. Overall, there’s a lot of variety and some really creative subweapons — I saw some that trap the opponent and drain their power gauge, for example.
The battles are divided into traditional rounds, and as mentioned, there are a few uses of Boss Mode stocks. There’s a lot of strategy to them, since whenever you’re low on health or about to perish, you can utilize it to completely turn the tables. However, the opponent isn’t completely helpless. They can dodge the attacks until you run out of time, or worse, destroy the Boss by hitting its weak spot continuously. You have to build up meter to stay in Boss Mode long, or you can spend it alternatively on special Barrage attacks. The developers have told me that many proficient players eschew using Boss and prefer to use meter for those special attacks. Maybe they’re so good, they can avoid dying to any Boss in the game?
One difficulty I came across is that it’s definitely tough to tell what’s going on in the screen. While that’s natural for schmups, it’s a bit confusing from a fighting game perspective. The two genres clash a bit, as I’ve had problems understanding what I’m doing or what button does what, especially when going into melee. I’m sure the mechanics would be more apparent as time goes on, however, get used to seeing a screen filled with flashy, colorful objects. Nonetheless, this doesn’t subtract from Senko‘s strategic, frenetic personality.
There’s definitely a good depth to Senko. A variety of characters ensures there’s something for everyone, and there are more complex systems that I barely touched on in this post. If you like having more layers, there is plenty of strategy to explore. The Boss Mode brings a feeling of utter joy as your giant ship faces the tiny opponent — that’s definitely one of the main thrills for me and a unique selling point. If you’re wondering whether this is similar to any other fighting game, I would say the neutral game feels somewhat like ARMS if it were from a top-down perspective. Ultimately, I would encourage you to give Senko no Ronde 2 a chance.