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Sengoku Cannon: Sengoku Ace Episode III
  opened by paleface at 02:58:36 10/13/05  
  last modified by paleface at 12:25:50 03/05/24  
  paleface [sys=PSP; cat=Shooter_Horiz; reg=JPN]
The PSP with its big wide screen just screams for a quality horizontal shooter. Rather early on, X>Nauts (for Psikyo) steps up with an exciting exclusive: the third installment of the previously well-received "Sengoku" series. Unfortunately, they went a little bit 3D, and that didn't turn out so well. Otherwise, though, they managed to make a fun handheld shooter.
Cannon looks like crap. The characters, for the most part, are 2D sprites, and drawn well enough, but so tiny that you can barely make out their details. That isn't the really bad part, though. No, the bad part is the 3D backgrounds. Apparently running with the PSP version of RenderWare, the backgrounds consist of very flattish 3D landscapes covered by small, ugly, repeating textures. In the early stages, the camera performs wild pitches and rolls over villages and hills so ugly that, more often than not, I get distracted and die. Honest to goodness.
It doesn't help that the framerate is pretty uneven, too; this, combined with tiny characters and tinier bullets, can from time to time make it hard to tell what exactly is going on. I've encountered a few areas of incredibly bad, single-digit framerate, when a lot of enemies shoot a lot of bullets all at once, but fortunately those low points are few and far between. More fortunately still, past the first few stages, the backgrounds seem to calm down and, while still not exactly attractive, at least cease to be an impediment to gameplay.
Yes, gameplay! It's actually pretty good. The "Cannon" part of the game comes in with a spiffy alternate heavy weapon each of the four (plus two unlockable, somehow) characters totes around in addition to their normal shot. The exact shot type varies by character, but basically the cannon shoots a big energy projectile, which not only does some pretty good damage, but, when it kills its target, magically converts any bullets that target has fired into coins. And then there's some kind of scoring multiplier that it racks up, too, up to x10 I think. I'm not sure of the exact math behind it, but I know that x10 is a good thing, all round, and you should use the cannon a lot if you want a big score.
In addition to the cannon, each character also has their own unique type of bomb, in very limited quantity, and a regular shot that can power up via items dropped by enemies, and can fire a more concentrated stream of bullets when the button is held down, although this slows your movement speed significantly.
Movement speed can be a premium in this game, as some of the bosses at least dish out fairly thick bullet chains, or even just single, huge bullets, that require you to get the heck out of the way pretty fast. So far I've been most successful just mashing shot and cannon, but once I get a little more used to the enemy patterns I'll really want to be a little more discriminating, so that I take out weak, low-bullet enemies with the regular shot, and weaken heavier bullet baddies with the regular shot, then KO them with the cannon and get lots of coins. An enemy health meter in the lower right can help you refine this technique against the medium-strength enemies.
I'm not sure how many stages there are; I've only got to stage four so far. Each stage has the usual boss at the end, and some have a mid-boss. The first two bosses aren't that tough, although they have decent bullet patterns. Boss 3 had some nice tricks up his sleeve, though, and I'm exited to see what Boss 4 may have in store, if I can ever get that far.
What else... You can continue all you want, it seems. A practice mode lets you run through any stage that you've completed with a character. You have Easy and Normal difficulty levels to choose from at first, and Hard must be unlockable somehow. The game provides separate high score tables for each character, per difficulty level.
Control took me a while to get used to on the PSP. You can remap the buttons if you want, which is appreciated. You can move with either the D-pad or the analog nub; at first I liked the nub better, 'cause I have a hard time doing diagonals with the PSP's D-pad, but the nub is really too sluggish for quick dodging, so now I'm learning to use the D-pad and just cope with not moving diagonally. It's not as bad as I feared at first.
If they'd stuck to 2D backgrounds, this game probably would have been much better received in shmupping circles. My initial impression was "Eww!" but, having stuck with it, I can say that the game has grown on me considerably. The gameplay, beneath the nasty RenderWare exterior, is quite solid, and with four-plus characters, and three difficulty levels, there is plenty here to enjoy.
· Psikyo Shooting Collection Vol.2: Sengoku Ace & Sengoku Blade (PS2)

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