Switch version tested
The Samurai Aces trilogy is coming to a close with the third instalment, Sengoku Cannon. We are getting close to the end of the Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo collection as well, this is the fifth game I’m reviewing for NIS America. Just as with the previous title we do not need the flip grip sadly.
Sengoku Cannon begins with a quick-moving story before reaching the main menu. From there you have the option to choose story mode, practice, or observe the local leaderboard. If you remain on the main menu and don’t press any buttons then an explanation of game mechanics will be shown that is helpful. A regular shot, concentrated shot with slower movement speed, a bomb for momentary invincibility, and a cannon that can be used for the kill shot to receive a score multiplier. Now the character select screen, there are four available and two that can be unlocked. No skills or attributes are shown but it’s pretty sweet that two folks can be revealed later.
Character drawings look fantastic and I could see them transplanted into any anime I would watch. As soon as I started the game I was awestruck and taken back by the graphic style and amount of action going on. There is a lot to unload here. For starters let’s talk about how Psikyo utilised a 2D midground and a 3D background. All sprite work on the midground including your character and enemies are 2D while the background has an arcade or Dreamcast 3D look. At first it was a bit overwhelming and fooled my eyes but once I got used to it I became a fan. If anything it’s a beautiful distraction. Camera angles know no bounds and feel cinematic. Left to right is boring, Sengoku Cannon twists and turns every which way and can make it difficult to keep an eye on shots being fired but it looks great.
Initially, I was put off by the movement speed of each character but utilising the focused shot takes care of that concern. With rapid-fire used the normal movement speed is quick and smooth. Cannon shot or the kill shot as I like to call it is a tricky mechanic to get down but is based on timing really. Once you master the mechanic it will give a big payout to your score at the end of each level in “cannon bonus”. Honestly, this will boost your scores a massive amount even if used randomly so it’s worth trying. Pro tip: wait until an enemy lets off a load of bullets because they will turn to coins. Cannon shot is much simpler to use on easy mode shooting it off in conjunction with the normal shot. Normal mode will call on your timing skills to be more precise in execution. It can be used any number of times and I think you will find it inappropriate to keep using it once you’re annoyed with the sound your chosen character makes.
As the dust settles in the graphics department and your eyes have adjusted let’s talk about level design. Really the only 2D elements are your character, enemies, and each other’s attack sprites. Beyond that the background does all the heavy lifting. One level in particular showcases a ton of movement in a 3D space forwards, backwards, and then turns sideways in a matrix looking black and green area. That concept is spread across both imaginative and realistic landscapes. In addition to these wonderful looking sights there can be long stretches of nothingness that bore the screen. Flying above clouds that cover the bottom 15% of the screen while the above area is plain blue. This makes it easier to weave into bullet storms and out of tight spaces but coming from what was initially a wildly creative background, it’s a steep letdown.
A highlight of Samurai Aces III is the wonderful music that uplifts the game. The first level soundtrack I wouldn’t say it fits the genre very well, it sounds more fitting to an adventure RPG game. Maybe in the green land-covered areas it works best but overall feels out of place.
Enemies are a vast bag of variety that won’t make it to your sight if using the concentrated shot in some instances. Some small red robotic spheres may pepper out from top to bottom with a circular spray of pink orbs. Samurai archers will attack in hordes shooting their arrows in sequence. Inanimate objects such as spinning canisters with oni’s on them will blast at you. Some of these no-face looking, scythe bearing, angelic monsters are unrecognizable. Minibosses are a decent warm-up to the main level boss in their stand-alone fight. They will arrive in the far right center of the screen and remain for a brief pause before the battle begins. Some attack patterns will occur and it’s up to you to control your character swapping between normal movement and concentrated to survive. End of the level bosses aren’t large in size but their attacks are enormous, taking up all the empty space in some attacks. They give a short speech about your demise then turn up the heat. These short-winded discussions are forgettable at best. Hold down the concentrated fire so as soon as possible they take damage and pay attention to the number near their health bar as that is how many times you must deplete it. Or is it? If it says 1 then you have two bars to defeat, so on and so forth. I lend my bombs to the bosses after dodging their mesmerising shot patterns for as long as I can. Boss battles have a similar amount of enjoyment compared to mini-bosses and the areas leading up to it. They don’t carry the weight of the game as others do, so overall it’s pretty balanced.
Overall in the horizontal shmups of the Psikyo games, Samurai Aces III has taken the lead. The graphics (which must have been mind-blowing at the time) are entertaining and the game overall is pretty solid. It doesn’t bring me back for competitive runs for any reason but it has increased my likeness for this type of shoot ‘em up. The mind-bending backgrounds stuck out the most and will spark interest for many upon starting a run. I liked my time spent with Sengoku Cannon and would recommend others try it.