Version tested Xbox 360
Wartech is one of those 2D shooting games that's unlikely to trouble the upper reaches of western sales charts, in spite of the rave reviews it received in its native Japan. Originally developed for Sega's Naomi arcade board, then given a few upgrades, then released on Xbox 360, it's now coming out over here thanks to Ubisoft's impressive eye for quality.
And in spite of the new name, and some slightly ugly new boxart, it's pretty much exactly the same game, because Ubisoft has taken the wise decision to keep its localising zeal to a minimum. There are none of the crappy American voices here that have plagued games from Shenmue to Yakuza, just subtitles. Which, actually, is perfect, because it preserves the big-eyed anime aesthetic and the slightly shrill, slightly perplexing sense of style.
But what does the game actually involve? It's basically like a beat 'em up meets shoot 'em up. Visually it's got the small sprite appeal of something like Bangai-O: like Bangai-O, it's a quirky shoot 'em up, featuring tiny big robots. Like Bangai-O, while it looks like a conventional 2D shoot 'em up, it's not. And like Bangai-O, it's pretty brilliant, but it won't appeal to everyone. But the comparison to Bangai-O is only partially instructive.
A better comparison, and the game it most closely resembles (as about a million other people have already pointed out) is Virtual On, but from an overhead perspective. And for anyone who doesn't know one big robot game from another, what that means is that you control one or two big robots who circle around each other in an arena, trying to shoot each other out of the sky. Except in this case the big robots are small, and viewed from overhead.
Structurally, it resembles a beat 'em up: you pick one of eight characters, each with their own particular strengths and idiosyncrasies, and then play through successive stages to reach the end of the (frankly inexplicable) narrative, or to achieve a high score. Towards the end of the game though, there are a few stages where it does play like a conventional top-down shooter - you memorise patterns of incoming bullets, and devise the best strategy of dodging them to target enemy weak spots.
And it's a shame there aren't more of these, because they're very entertaining. But that's almost missing the point, because the main part of the game is pretty enjoyable too - as a direct result of the very fact that you're not confined to memorising patterns and a limited range of manoeuvres. Instead you've got a massive range of tactical options.