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Sengoku Cannon: Sengoku Ace Episode III (PSP) artwork

Sengoku Cannon: Sengoku Ace Episode III (PSP) review


"With Sengoku Cannon: Sengoku Ace Episode III, the question isn't so much what went wrong as it is, what on earth were Psikyo thinking?! Taking a popular franchise and releasing a quick-to-market sequel is nothing new. Flushing away years worth of hard work and a solid reputation however, is something else entirely."



With Sengoku Cannon: Sengoku Ace Episode III, the question isn't so much what went wrong as it is, what on earth were Psikyo thinking?! Taking a popular franchise and releasing a quick-to-market sequel is nothing new. Flushing away years worth of hard work and a solid reputation however, is something else entirely. Where the classic Sengoku series has consistently offered a wealth of polished, shoot'em up technique, its PSP debut regresses the franchise to a point where average begins to feel like an overstatement. So bad is this release in fact, I'll probably be forced to comment on the game's art design if anything positive is to be said.

When good shooters go bad

The warning signs were always there, I just failed to see them. If the RenderWare banner displayed during Sengoku Cannon's opening sequence was my first clue, a text heavy introduction should have been my second. You don't introduce a shoot'em up known for its twitch based gameplay with words alone, unless that is, you're tying to save money. Pin, pon! And we might have a winner. Either way, as these clues were being dropped, I was fondly reminiscing on the good times experienced with Hudson Soft's Star Soldier, and drooling over the promise of some PSP based, horizontal action.

It's not until Sengoku Cannon gets underway then, that players begin to realize how badly executed this game is. Some piss poor sprite work limits the otherwise, intriguing character art, hiding our charismatic heroes behind an obviously cheap, lack of detail. For example, though it's suggested samurai babe Koyuri wears her hakama robes three sizes too small, her on-screen representation looks like a masculine mess of red and white crap. Then there's Mizuka's youthful enthusiasm, Ein's fury, and Masamitsu's machismo, all of which have been lost in Psikyo's desire to throw something, heck anything, on the screen as fast as possible.

But that sounds like I'm being picky, and you starting to think these issues are minor niggles at best. Well, hold onto your seat belts Ladies & Gentlemen, I'm about to kick it up a notch. Early on in the piece, Sengoku Cannon's RenderWare engine shows signs of cracking as its various 3D, background elements begin to glitch. What should have been a heated battle above a green rice paddy soon turns into a flickering mess of garbage, while the intricate tile work of a Japanese castle is reduced to a long, steady blur. And as if to kick us while we're down, Psikyo it seems, recognized these problems yet did nothing to fix them.

Conspiracy Theory
Note how the opening stages feature most of the 3d background effects, then consider how the final two (of four I might add), have virtually none what-so-ever. The third area sees players fighting high above the cloud line, the fourth presents a black, dream-like environment consisting of large, blue-ish cubes and not much of anything else. So clear is this shift in design, that most players will have no problems tracing the exact moment when Psikyo first, threw in the towel.

(here's a clue... watch for the worst slowdown you've ever seen in a shooter, then count to three.)


Still, I'm glad to report that the downward spiral is slowly tapering out, and from here on in it's just a steady stream of m'eh. Sengoku Cannon's core gimmick, a huge gun-shot used to transform enemy bullets into point scoring gold coins disappoints, its "awesome" firepower the very definition of limp. A squadron of attacking Buddhist shrines (I kid you not) fly in from the right, spraying down the screen with what ever passes for plasma in feudal Japan. You cut left, jinx right, and fire off a shot that does nothing for your flailing testosterone. Where's the gung-ho, balls to the wall, I'm going to rip your throat out and sodomize your neck attitude a flying samurai might want to adopt? I have no idea either...

What Psikyo's disappointment lacks in whoa however, it makes up for with modicum of technique. There's a particular, old school joy to be had when vying for your latest high-score, and so long as its assorted faults don't bother you, Sengoku Cannon might even entertain. It's many boss encounters flow by thick and fast, each adopting different attack patterns as damage is inflicted. Some overly generous hit detection then ensures players are given a chance, even if the overly loose controls never feel quite right. But of course, what did you expect?

With Psikyo at the helm and the PSP's widescreen display at their disposal, I'd say something considerably more than what was delivered. The untapped, shoot'em up potential of Sony's handheld is simply too great to ignore, it's just a shame the system's first, horizontal scroller had to end like this. If Hudson Soft can take a classic, 1986 shooter and turn it into a must have piece of entertainment, then there's really no reason for Psikyo, virtual Gods of the genre, to release garbage like this. Boasting a mere four stages, some of the worst graphics the PSP has ever seen, and some hugely disappointing gameplay, Sengoku Cannon: Sengoku Ace Episode III is one to avoid. Even if you loved its predecessors...

Personally however, I'm feeling insulted.


Pros
----

* Boss encounters are plentiful
* Character designs are awesome
* There's still some technique for the right type of player to explore
* Generous collision detection

Cons
----

* Poor, badly defined sprite work
* Glitchy backgrounds soon kill the player's interest
* There's some phenomenal slowdown to be had
* The controls are either too sensitive, or not responsive enough
* Weapons feel under-powered and weak
* With only 4 stages on offer, Sengoku Cannon is over before it starts
* It's clear Psikyo just gave up on this game

Rating: 4/10

midwinter's avatar
Staff review by Michael Scott (October 18, 2005)

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