Sengoku Densho (SNK Playmore, 1991)

Completely insane, as only jap stuff can be. Where else can you fight undead feudal samurai warriors in a modern subway station while transformed in an armored dog?

After my first play, I admit to looking up the plot for this arcade game, hoping in some kind of rational thought tying all the nonsense I just witnessed all together. Boy, was I wrong.

This is normal stuff. The weird one comes later

This is normal stuff. The weird one comes later

The plot is as thin as you can expect from a beat'em up: a powerful evil medieval japanese warlord/sorcerer/whatnot is defeated by two heroic samurai warriors, but swears to come back in the future to wreak havoc again. So it's up to the two samurai's descendants to fix the mess, again. That's it.

But do you really need a plausible excuse to fight undead medieval samurai warriors in a modern subway station? I say no, you don't.

So just turn off the rational part of your brain for a while and enjoy the feast SNK prepared for you.

If you love Japanese culture and traditions like I do, you can't help but fall in love with this arcade game, despite all its many flaws.
Have you ever watched a Noh theatre play? If so, did you find it to be a somehow alienating, impenetrable, hermetic experience? Did you feel the full weight of being a gaijin, a stranger, while watching? Well, that's exactly what you're going to experience while playing this arcade game.
Half the things that happen around you make no sense at all, and leave you wondering "does this make sense to a japanese guy? Or are they just all pretending it does?". I'll leave you decide for yourself, thank you.

It doesn' get any more japanese than this

It doesn' get any more japanese than this

The game is a pretty standard beat'em up, with a very basic set of moves at your disposal. Jump, punch, that's it. To spice things up, you can collect power-ups that give you weapons (mainly swords and magical attacks), you can morph into a ninja, a samurai or a dog (yep, because that makes sense). And you also continuously (maybe even a little annoyingly?) swap from a modern age background to someplace that look like a medieval spirit world. So there's no space for boredom here.

English localization is bad. I mean really bad. So bad that it becomes one of the defining points of the game. Let me give you a taste.
In a medieval-looking japanese castle, an army of bad guys kneel before its pissed-off master, respectfully. Honoring him. Afraid of his anger. Japanese are strict that way.
And then their general shouts "Listen guys, this is the warlord's order". Listen guys? Really? Let's make it "Yo, bros. Listen up!" while we're at it. Come on.

I don't even understand who the guy is talking to

I don't even understand who the guy is talking to

So, cut the crap Vonblubba. Is this game any good?
Yes, it is. There are loads of small details that show the maniacal care they put into this arcade game. There's the effects enemies use to enter the screen, you seldom see the same one twice. There's the traditional japanese songs that make for an incredibly atmospheric soundtrack. There's many more, but I don't want to spoil everything.

On the bad side, I found the collision detection pretty terrible. There are several moments when you hit the punch button and you're absolutely sure you're going to hit your enemy and then you inexplicably miss the target. But he was right there, in front of me! How could I have missed?
Well, that's not good for a beat'em up, where hitting the enemy is pretty much everything.
Overall, the game has an unpolished feel about it. The feeling that with just a little more time and effort it could have been a real masterpiece. Pity.

That of course won't stop me from playing the 2 sequels, so stay tuned!