Developer: Dragnet Publisher: Sammy Release: 12/28/93 Genre: Beat ’em up
Before SNK rode the fighting game renaissance into the ground the Neo Geo was host to an assortment of beat em ups. With their graphical prowess these titles looked better than almost anything else on the market. But they also were not very good. To be fair most arcade brawlers were greedy quarter munchers so that was par for the course. Sengoku Denshou was one of the more interesting of the lot and the Sega CD is host to one of its more faithful ports. Unfortunately that does not mean it is good.
Sengoku differed from most beat em ups of the time in a few ways. The setting stands out; where most games in the genre focus on the post apocalypse or drug infested streets Sengoku instead is a war against an invasion of undead warlords from the Sengoku period of Japan, hence the title. Of the two versions of the game the Sega CD edition is the most accurate. The SNES game mostly followed the same story and levels but changed the gameplay significantly in to a more traditional beat ‘em up. That was not a bad idea per se but it was done terribly. Sengoku Denshou has its own unique flavor and that has been replicated here, for better and worse.
Sengoku is a beat ‘em up but not quite like you expect. You will not find life bars for the enemies. Your life bar is a scant six boxes rather than one long meter. There is no long list of grabs, holds, and throws either. In fact most enemies die in one or two hits. It gives the game the feeling of a side scrolling action game rather than a brawler. Colored orbs dropped by enemies grant one of many weapons, from a two hand sword to dual blades. In addition collecting further orbs changes your standard slash into a projectile attack unique to each weapon and form. Taking a page from Magician Lord the gameplay heavily focuses on transformations which makes it unique in the genre.
These transformations are the hook for the game. As you defeat enemies the departed souls will inhabit your body. There are three forms you can assume: a samurai who has longer reach, a ninja who is not as good as you would think and a ninja dog. These forms last about a minute and give the game more variety than it initially appears. They play differently than the two protagonists and come with their own weapons. You can even keep them in reserve to change again once the current form ends. Souls appear frequently enough that I would say you spend at least 70% of the game transformed. So while each form may not be as cool as they appear they are at least more unique than the generic protagonists.
The progression of each level is different than your standard beat em up. As you walk through each environment occasionally you are teleported to the spirit world. Here you face wave after wave of undead soldiers until you are warped back. The first few times it happens they are a nice change of pace. But the repetitiveness of every encounter makes them dreadful. The loading pause each time is also not welcome. Unfortunately they are an inseparable part of the game and I wish it were better. The game desperately needs something to hold your attention.
Sengoku certainly tries to be interesting but in the end Sengoku Denshou is average in nearly every category. The very same pacing that makes it distinct is also part of what makes it so rote and boring. Being transported to an alternate dimension had the potential to be more interesting than the post apocalypse of the main stage. In some respects it is as some of the settings are beautiful. But the boring waves of enemies eventually make you dread these diversions. Because the game lacks combos and any kind of move set the action is mediocre. Watching repetitive enemies die like bowling pins gets old fast. The boss battles do not alleviate this either. By the midpoint you will simply want it to be over.
Sengoku Denshou is a faithful arcade port but that is the problem. This was not an especially good game in the arcade and is just as mediocre at home. It is better than the Super Famicom game but that is not saying much. If you want a brawler for your Sega CD go with Final Fight or Annet Futatabi and thank me later.