Rengoku PSP Review

With the PSP launching with a solid if unspectacular action-RPG in Untold Legends, it's amazing that we actually had to wait this long for Rengoku. This is an unequivocal disaster of a video game, containing nothing but bad game design, unresponsive controls, and miserable gameplay. It's not just a disappointment; it's as unplayable as you can make a video game and still call it a video game.

It doesn't take long to figure out just how wrong this game is. You're thrust into gameplay after a brief video tutorial that explains very little (and can't be paused if you're confused) and then tossed into a room after a loading period. There's nothing in this room other than your horribly designed character and a portal to the next floor. Upon entering that, it loads again. The question is, why even bother starting a player off in a room like this in the first place?

That's the type of design the entire game hinges on. Played from a third person perspective, you'll enter into a small selection of same looking rooms, kill a few enemies, then move to the next. Once you've cleared the entire floor (which requires a ridiculous amount of backtracking), you'll need to go all the way the back to the beginning of the stage to reach the boss. It doesn't seem like such a journey in the earlier levels, when they're still small and regenerating enemies weak. In later stages, it's an absurd nuisance.

Combat is a mess, suffering from controls that never work, a shoddy camera, and far too much reliance on quick movements, your only defense. Once locked on, you can perform your attack, but not move. You're always stuck in a sedentary position as you fire bullets or hack away. When the counter attack is made, you must begin a spastic dance that's considered defense in this game, rolling uncontrollably around the screen, as the camera fails to keep a decent eye on your opponent. Even when locked on with the trigger button that only seems to work when it wants to, you'll be lost.

All of this is controlled with the d-pad. The only thing the analog stick does is let you see a little to your sides. There's no need to look up and down; the entire game is nothing but a collection drab, flat corridors. Running requires a double tap to get going and this begins either when you don't want it to or won't start when you need it.

Leveling up is usually the big pull from this style of game, but Rengoku is so lost, it fails miserably here. Even if you can get past the unnecessarily cluttered and far too complicated menus, you can only equip items at a terminal. There's one at the beginning of the stage. Want to use that new Gatling gun? You'd better start moving in the opposite direction, following the same path you just came from. It's obvious this adds even more backtracking, none of which should be necessary if the game was designed with care.

It does offer up a few ideas to make it unique, especially since weapons can be added to various body parts. This allows long and short-range weapons to be equipped at the same time. You can rarely use them together in a combo unless you've matched them properly, and there's nothing to tell you if you've done so. Mismatching will cause problems, more specifically like overheating.

There's not much to look at here, as the already mentioned level design is beyond ugly. The walking animation of the main character is unintentionally hilarious, while the attacks are stiff and make it even harder to control. Blood splatters freely, earning the game an "M" rating. However, even that can be hard to see against the dark, under-lit backgrounds early on.

While the music could be taken from any generic action game, the sound effects attempt to be a little bit different. There's an odd mix of metallic grinding and flesh ripping when a hit lands as it's supposed to. Unfortunately, it doesn't really convey impact like it needs to (or should). When your life is drained to near death, there's an aggravating, frustrating chime that simply doesn't go away until you're powered-up again or die. It overwhelms everything, including the soundtrack.

Even with local ad hoc play, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about this title. It is undoubtedly the worst and most unplayable game for the console to date, and a company is going to have to try hard to strip of its title. It seems to have no direction and though there are some ideas that at least show some effort was made, all of that is lost in quickly crumbling experience that fails to draw you in.

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