Version tested Xbox 360
G.Rev's, Senko no Ronde was a curious shooter/fighter hybrid that was brought to the UK in 2007 under the pseudonym of WarTech. For those who've never played it - which, judging by the measly sales figures, is almost everyone - the gameplay can be loosely described as a top-down Virtual On with both players trading salvoes of projectiles.
While that may sound contrived to the uninitiated, it was this clever meshing of two classic genres which made WarTech such a breath of fresh air. And even for those with Street Fighter and Gradius one-credit credentials, its unique approach to competitive one-on-one fighting meant that, right from the get-go, everyone was discovering a new way to play.
But despite brimming with originality, WarTech's hardcore nature meant it was destined for obscurity in the West, and unfortunately it looks like no one's interested in publishing this recent sequel outside of Japan. But for those who'd buy a broken Japanese 360 off eBay in the hope of opening up the world of import shmups by repairing it (i.e. me), Senko no Ronde DUO is entirely worth the effort.
As before, the gameplay is akin to a fighting game, with each player controlling a Rounder (read: anime-style robot) over the course of three rounds, with a familiar garnish of health bars, super meters and timers. But rather than facing off at close range in a bout of mecha fisticuffs, the fighting system is built upon the premise of a bullet-hell shooter.
This means each player is locked to an overhead view and can use the analogue stick to move freely in two dimensions, just as you would in a Konami or Cave-endorsed shmup. After that it's just a case of familiarising yourself with each Rounder's arsenal of projectile attacks.
These are split between Main, Sub and Barrage attacks, with each type mapped to a face button. Main weapons are your primary form of attack and usually boil down to firing a stream of bullets in a straight trajectory. Sub weapons require more strategy to use effectively, but their versatility and damage output is often greater.
Lastly, Barrage attacks are a cross between Street Fighter supers and Defender smart bombs, as in addition to burning meter and requiring analogue flicks and 360 motions to execute, their effect can be anything from dosing the arena in laser confetti to projecting a purple-hued barrier that your opponent can't pass through.
However, while DUO often emphasises the "best defence is a good offence" mentality, surviving a heated round also requires methodical taps of the Action button. Holding and tapping Action will differentiate between your bullet-absorbing shield and lifesaving dash. When faced with bullet-wall situations - which, against a competent opponent, will be fairly frequently - mastering the nuances of the dash's invulnerability frames is still the key to survival. But just as in a Capcom fighter, your ultimate game plan will be a reflection of your character's strengths.
Here G.Rev has expanded the roster from eight to 14 with returning characters including Sakurako's combination of sticky mines and rocket barrages, and Chang Po's tricky payload of dual cannons and tracking lasers. But whereas some movesets have been subtly tweaked, fans can expect a revamped Mika with angelic wings, and an entirely new B.O.S.S. form that's less Silver Surfer and more Millennium Falcon for Fabian the Fastman - who, as his name suggests, still pilots one of the swifter Rounders.
DUO's select screen also offers many new faces, and the new Rounders are unlikely to disappoint experienced WarTech players. Highlights include a samurai Rounder with lethal close combat skills, exploding shurikens and a teleporting special move, as well as a slow but powerful tank Rounder with two turret-based stances that mix up its projectile ordinance. Each new Rounder also receives a new B.O.S.S. form with designs including UFOs, snakes and space-station tumblers.