It feels like it was just a few weeks ago when I reviewed Sengoku 2 ($3.99) and expressed my hopes that we would not have to wait another year for Sengoku 3 ($3.99) to arrive on mobile. Wait, it was just a few weeks ago. Well, that’s fun. The important thing isn’t how we got here, however. It only matters that we did get here, and we got here pretty fast. This is the finest beat-em-up on the NEOGEO and a highlight of the console’s final years.
Despite many attempts, the NEOGEO was never quite able to deliver a beat-em-up on the level of efforts from the likes of Capcom and Konami while the genre was still somewhat hot. It made a few good stabs, but truthfully once SNK caught the fighting game genre by the tail it simply made more sense to focus efforts there. I’m not sure what possessed SNK to want to create another one in 2001, but I suppose it was a strange time for the company on the whole. The company had been acquired by pachinko company Aruze the year before, had shut down its American offices not long after, and was about to run into one of the most bizarre bankruptcies and resurrections you can find in the video game business.
Amidst all of this chaos, game production marched on. SNK, such as it was, was working with a number of developers to continue producing games for the NEOGEO hardware. One of its more recent partners was Noise Factory, a local developer founded by ex-Atlus members who had worked on games like Princess Crown. Its debut title, Gaia Crusaders, was a beat-em-up. Perhaps that’s the reason why SNK ended up having the developer work on a further follow-up to the one NEOGEO brawler that managed to become a series: Sengoku.
It had been eight years since the 1993 release of Sengoku 2, and the whole business had changed dramatically. People weren’t playing Super NES and SEGA Genesis games at home; they were playing PlayStation 2 games. The arcades weren’t all about Mortal Kombat II and Super Street Fighter II anymore. Indeed, they were barely alive at all outside of Japan. As for the beat-em-up genre, it was a virtual corpse at this point. To the extent that it did exist, it was mostly through ill-fated efforts at bringing polygonal graphics to the genre. It was into this climate that Sengoku 3 arrived, and it’s little wonder that it mostly ended up flying under the radar as a result. Its home version sold in such low numbers that it fetches a couple thousand dollars in the collectors’ market these days.
A genuine shame it is. Sengoku 3 is easily the best beat-em-up on the NEOGEO. It’s also a rare example of its era, a time when games in the genre really had to be slick and have a strong hook to catch any attention at all. By this stage even Capcom was getting extremely experimental with its attempts. Sengoku 3‘s pitch wasn’t too wild. Four initial characters to choose from, as slick of a presentation as the NEOGEO could muster, some fairly involved combos, a few fighting game-style special moves, recruitable boss characters, and the ability to pick up a variety of projectiles and toss them at your foes. The game even had the audacity to ditch the character summoning from the first two games. Indeed, it’s almost a fully clean break from the previous games in all but name.
Perhaps the biggest improvements come in the general feel of playing the game, though. NEOGEO brawlers always felt a little odd when compared to the most popular titles in the genre. Sometimes it was the jumping. Other times it was the way hits landed on enemies. Sengoku 3 doesn’t feel weird to play. Quite the opposite. It’s as smooth as the best in the genre, and its wide variety of attack options mean you’re never lacking in new techniques to try on your foes. Hits land in a satisfying way, and the overall movement of your character feels right. You can do honest-to-goodness combos with juggles that go up into the double-digits of hits once you get good at the game.
So yes, Sengoku 3 is a spectacular effort. The best in its genre on the hardware by some measure, one of the finer games on the system full-stop, and a beat-em-up the system can finally put up against its competitors with pride. It plays really well with touch controls, and you can always make use of an external controller if you prefer. As usual, you’ll need external controllers to enjoy the game’s multiplayer features in this ACA NEOGEO form, but it’s a lot of fun to play even if you’re going solo. The usual wide array of options are present here including the now-standard extra modes Hamster packs into every ACA NEOGEO mobile release. It’s a good way to play the game, and is a great choice for fans of this genre who want to crack some heads on their mobile device.
Sengoku 3 was a little late to the party on the NEOGEO, but I’m glad it’s here in a somewhat more timely fashion for the ACA NEOGEO line-up. This is one of the shining jewels of SNK’s long-lived console, and it plays great on mobile whether you’re using touch controls or a controller. My gripes are the usual ones about not being able to play multiplayer online and the lack of AES options, but those are minor compared to the positive aspects of this game. You won’t find many better ways to deliver a beat-down on your device of choice.