['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, sometimes by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. And sometimes not. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the problems with releasing games outside the cultural cocoon they were created within.]

senko_360_cover.jpgSenko no Ronde is a game that has caused a fair amount of confusion since it’s Western release on the 360. The traditional shoot-em-up fans think it’s awful, whereas the Virtual On crowd seem to be fine with it. Ultimately, the problem with it is the absence of the pop cultural mythos that gave it context within Japanese arcades, as it’s not trying to be either a shoot-em-up nor a Virtual On clone (though it does bear similarities with the latter).

Like many mecha games it’s trying to give form to something that has never actually existed in the real world. The issue is that without the understanding or knowledge of this inspiration the game is caught partially with its mechanical pants down. This is not to say that Senko no Ronde is unplayable without knowing its functional roots but the learning curve is made far more obtuse than it was actually intended.

Believe in the Sign of Zeta

msz-006_200.jpgWith a game like Portal, where you are placed in the first person and expected to shoot portals in walls that you can walk through, the objectives are pretty much implicit. The viewpoint and the genre of FPS as whole is probably one of the most inclusive out there, as what you see is literally what you get.

When G.rev released the first iteration of Senko no Ronde in Japanese arcades, the gaming userbase already had a handle what it was trying to pull off and so took to the game without the confusion as to what its objectives were.

So what is Senkou no Ronde riffing off then? Well, like Virtual On, the main influence for the lateral and planar movement in relation to another opponent most closely resembles the mobile suit combat in the 1987 anime TV series Zeta Gundam. This meant that in Japan there was already a visual familiarity in terms of the movement and pacing that’s present in Senko no Ronde’s combat.

Admittedly, Senko’s approach is more comprehensive in terms of its viewpoint (as in top down and covering both players) but that’s a concession to the arcade beat-em-ups of yore. Yet even with this visual shift, the functional element remains very familiar.

It’s ironic in some sense that Virtual On’s influence was the same as Senko’s but the interpretation was wholly different, as in third person and sans the whole danmaku styling. It’s why the common thread of distinct vectored dashes is prevalent in both though, as Zeta Gundam and Yoshiyuki Tomino’s influence is something that has shaped mecha gaming for close to quarter of a century.

Idealistic Name Changes

wartech_cover1.jpgWhat does this mean when something Senko bridges the cultural divide and lands in the West? Well, the first thing that happens is a name change to make it more palatable to the average Western gamer.

The new moniker of “WarTech” may sound facile but it served a purpose; it insinuated the fact that this game will probably allow you to shoot things with guns (something the cover art emphasized further with a large gun taking up a sizable portion of it). Now shooting things with guns is a common thread in terms of the gaming medium in the West. Unfortunately, the name alone couldn’t explain the rest of Senko’s cultural baggage, which is where the problems started.

The name change was a naive one as it over simplified what Senko was actually offering to the player. Instead of packaging the game in a manner that was culturally palatable, it would have made more sense to have just gone with it. As one of the main problems that faces mecha games in terms of their marketing is that they are forced into cultural niches where they don't fit.

The irony is that this is done with the best intentions, as often the people trying to bring these games over to the West want them to be successful. If they just exposed the games in their natural state to the public their would be cumulative cultural boon towards the genre.

Unfettered Access

senko_4.jpgThat aside, minus the mecha mythos propping Senko's functionality up it was quickly misjudged as a traditional shoot-em-up, as the bullet patterns look like a Cave-esque dodge-o-thon, right? Actually, no as the bullet patterns and large bosses were a visual throwback to G.rev's shooter background. The main meat of the game was about fixed dashes and wrong footing your opponent to that effect. Something that was spearheaded by Virtual On but originally inspired by Zeta Gundam.

The big difference between the two is that Senko's approach is more akin to Zeta's original implementation. Whereas Virtual On was very rigid and had multiple obstacles littered throughout the arena, Senko is far more tactile in terms of the dashing and the environments are completely clear of obstruction. The latter harking back to the space based combat seen in Zeta.

senko_3.jpgThe problems arise when, without the familiarity and subsequent interest in a series such as Zeta Gundam (and all it's multitudinous progeny) Senko comes across as being a bit rubbish. In the same way my mother isn't interested or knowledgeable about cars, she subsequently has no time for games like Forza or Gran Turismo. Senko has a similar predicament, though amplified by the fact that outside of Japan mecha isn't really part of our everyday pop-cultural make-up.

There isn't an easy or quick fix for this, as in Japan it's taken half a century of incessant mechanical bombardment from manga to anime and now games for any of it to take hold. All that can be done, is to afford the public an unfettered access to the genre as a whole. Something this column, in its very small way admittedly, does its best to contribute towards.

[Kurokishi is a humble servant of the Drake forces and his interests include crushing inferior opponents, combing his mane of long silvery hair and dicking around with cheap voice synthesisers. When he's not raining down tyrannical firepower upon unsuspecting peasants in his Galava aura fighter he likes to take long moonlight walks and read books about cheese.]