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Sengoku Denshou (Sega CD) artwork

Sengoku Denshou (Sega CD) review

"Sengoku is a trippy brawler that inserts samurai and folklore demons into modern-day Japan, interrupted by a few interludes where the player leaps up into heaven to fight even more monsters. This bizarre series of events is explained as being due to Nobunaga Oda. That clears everything up."

Back in the day, Sengoku Denshou was one of those NeoGeo games that arcade-goers simply couldn't miss. That's not because it was unavoidably good -- in all those years, I never actually saw anyone play the game -- but because it was frequently loaded into the Neo's cabinet as a fifth or sixth choice, presumably to trick people into thinking there was more to the system than Fatal Fury. Considering the NeoGeo was marketed as the affordable alternative to Capcom and Sega's cutting-edge titles, it's no surprise that arcade owners sprang for a cheaper beat 'em up that let players become the Altered Dog while fighting Japanese turtle ninjas.

Someone must have played Sengoku Denshou, because it earned itself ports to both the SNES and Mega CD. The SNES incarnation was unpredictably transformed into a Rival Turf rip-off, with predictably lousy results. The Mega CD port, on the other hand, was the faithful rendition that no one asked for, since we were too busy asking for CD installments of Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Shinobi, and Phantasy Star. I hate you, Sega.

Setting hatred aside, Sengoku is a trippy brawler that inserts samurai and folklore demons into modern-day Japan, interrupted by a few interludes where the player leaps up into heaven to fight even more monsters. This bizarre series of events is explained as being due to Nobunaga Oda. That clears everything up. The concept of demon warfare in modern Tokyo has inspired numerous novels, anime, and videogames, which means Sengoku has a lot of creative competition. One of the game's more famous setpieces is a billboard showing a girl in a bikini, which is famous because the billboard shows a girl in a bikini. That was actually somewhat daring back in 1993. Today, that moment is a pathetically low highpoint in a videogame that failed to capture the emotional power of its theme.

Aside from the visual contrast between city streets and skeletal samurai, Sengoku's gimmicks include transformation, optional weaponry, and clear CD audio (which is wasted on a perfect recording of the arcade's poorly-composed synth "melodies"). The transformation aspect is actually handled pretty well. Players are limited to four forms -- punk, dog, samurai, and ninja -- but each behaves very differently from the others. The ninja is the only form that comes pre-equipped with a projectile attack, whereas the samurai is by far the best for melee combat. The dog can perform fancy somersaults and die. The punk's benefit is that he's not the dog.

Weaponry orbs are strewn throughout each stage, and their effect varies depending on the player's current form. The street punk may earn a sword, double katanas, or perhaps even the fearsome holy blade -- but transform into the ninja, and he'll begin hurling fiery shuriken or even unleash ninja doppelgangers. This is a nice amount of variety for what is unfortunately a tame beat 'em up.

Before the days of rumble, impact was conveyed through sight and sound. Play something like Final Fight and you'll hear a lot of grunts and thuds while watching thugs double over from repeated punches to the gut. Sengoku Denshou's muted sound effects carry no force behind them, and enemies die in so few hits that players never have a chance to mentally process the pain before foes perish. This was a weakness of the arcade version, but the Mega CD port is even more feeble because defeated enemies simply blink and fade away, instead of being visibly sucked into the underworld.

The absence of sprite warping isn't the only loss suffered during the translation from arcade to Mega CD. Compared to the original, the characters and backgrounds in Sengoku Denshou contain fewer colors. I've read other reviews that blame this on the Genesis' limited color palette, but I'm going to go out on a limb and instead blame this on the artists' ineptitude. I have two reasons for making such an assertion. First: there are dozens of Genesis games that are more vibrant and colorful than Sengoku Denshou. Second: Sengoku was always ugly, even in the arcade. Yes, the poor shading makes the enemies look flat, but it's hard to criticize a port's off-putting pallor when the original already looked so lifeless.

Music, impact, and graphics: if a beat 'em up is missing even one of those elements, then it shall pale in comparison to its competition. It's a pity, because a few moments -- such as a battle that takes place atop the backs of stampeding horses -- are so outlandish that they'd seem inspired in the hands of talented developers. Talented developers like Sega, when I'm not busy hating them.

The 4-megabit Golden Axe proved that the Genesis could bring the two-player arcade spirit home. The 16-megabit Streets of Rage 2 tried its damnedest to surpass something great. The umpteen-megabit Sengoku Denshou aspired to be like something mediocre. It couldn't even meet that low standard, seeing as the developers chopped out the arcade's two-player simultaneous mode. When I saw that Sengoku had been ported to CD, I let curiosity get the best of me. I don't recommend letting curiosity get the best of you.


Kenshiru's avatar
Freelance review by Pat Floyd (August 20, 2012)

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overdrive posted August 21, 2012:

I'd reviewed that horrible SNES Sengoku game. Reading this made me read that. Reading that kinda made me cringe. Not horrible, but back then I was a lot more rambling with my reviews a lot of the time. Sounds like I enjoyed the NEO Sengokus a decent bit more than you (at the least, I loved the trippy "go from city streets to mystical cloud worlds" theme), but you probably made a better case for your argument with this review than I did with my GF-exclusive SHORT SECTIONED REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA for the NEO version.

At the least, your dislike (or at least apathy) towards the NEO version really helped out in making your points against this port. Particularly when you mention that things like defeated foes being sucked into the underworld weren't brought over...that just says "look, one of the few cool things about the game didn't even make it here....WHYYYYY!!!!!"

Good stuff.

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