Time travel. A risky story-telling device, to be sure. It can fix problems. It can cause problems. Usually it does both. Nevertheless, it’s a crowd-pleasing plot device that can spice up a story in many ways. The original Sengoku ($3.99) already had a bit of a time mash-up going on with its tale of an evil feudal warlord appearing in the modern era and unleashing an army of undead Japanese warriors in a bid to take over the world. With the warlord having been vanquished by the samurai descendants Ninja Dave and Cowboy Kev, it seemed that peace had returned. Unfortunately for the world, Sengoku was a hit. Sengoku 2 ($3.99) was unavoidable.
Of all of SNK’s NEOGEO beat-em-up attempts, Sengoku was the one that had the greatest reception with coin-dropping arcade-goers around the world. Despite having some slightly stiff controls, the compelling premise, character-swapping mechanic, and excellent presentation attracted plenty of players in the early era of the NEOGEO. Critical reviews were less kind, but that didn’t seem to hold the game back in the least. With the development team given the nod to do a sequel, one could only imagine how the ante would be upped.
Time travel. In contrast to other forms of media, time travel rarely goes wrong in video games. We love that stuff. Chrono Trigger. Turtles in Time. Ocarina of Time. Day of the Tentacle. Blinx the Time Sweeper. Nothing but legends there. Add in the fact that beat-em-ups lean heavier than most genres on a flashy attention-grabbing premise, and time travel is a full-on winning play. So when the feudal warlord returns in Sengoku 2, he doesn’t just attack modern-day Washington again. No, this time he’s going to attack and take over several major moments in history. Ninja Dave and Cowboy Kev, with the help of a priestess, will travel through time to battle the forces of the warlord wherever they pop up.
The gameplay doesn’t have a whole ton of changes from the first. The multiple weapons of the original game are gone, which is kind of unfortunate. Instead, you start with a sword that you’ll always wield. You can do high and low attacks with your weapon, and by pushing both at the same time you’ll block. Orbs can be picked up as before, but this time they’ll just upgrade your attacks. The character transformations return, but this time you start the game with all three available. Choices include a doggo, a tengu with a long rod weapon, and the world’s worst-dressed ninja. You can transform into them temporarily, and the tengu in particular is very useful. It’s as fun of a gimmick as it was in the first, though occasionally just as pointless.
It’s still fairly stiff compared to the offerings of Capcom, Konami, and even Jaleco, with a lack of fun combos and chain moves. That said, it’s a faster and smoother game than its predecessor, making for an overall more enjoyable experience. There are also some horse-riding sections in the game that help add a little sizzle to the oft-repetitive slicing and dicing of the standard gameplay. It’s also improved from a presentation standpoint, with better animation, more intimidating enemies, and some wild stage backdrops as you get tossed around in time. There’s no question which of the two games is superior; Sengoku 2 handily bests the original game.
I won’t beat around the bush too much longer, however. Sengoku 2 is not a great beat-em-up. It’s barely a good one. I wouldn’t say this series had a truly excellent installment until its third and final outing. Aim Sengoku 2 is good enough. A fun little diversion to run through on your mobile device with however many credits you choose to use. The game is more fun with a friend, but as is the norm with these ACA NEOGEO mobile releases, you’re probably not going to have everything you need to make that happen.
On that note, let’s talk about the usual stuff. You can use an external controller if you have one, and that’s a fine way to play. If you’re stuck with touch controls, you’ll still have a decent time with it. Beat-em-ups generally seem to handle well enough with touch controls and this is no exception. You get the same extra modes as we’ve seen in other ACA NEOGEO releases, and the same robust array of options to choose from. Online leaderboards give you an extra incentive to keep coming back and are a most welcome feature.
If you enjoyed playing through Sengoku on iOS, this is an easy recommendation. Sengoku 2 is a better game than the first and its conversion for mobile has been handled in a similarly competent fashion. I still wouldn’t call it a particularly amazing title, but slashing your way through its bizarre and beautiful locales is a pleasing enough use of your time and virtual coins. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another year for the superb follow-up to make its appearance in the ACA NEOGEO line.