Don't get with the program.
Science has been busy lately, like unintentionally disseminating lethal viruses, discovering primordial midgets, and cloning sheep. I might have chosen a different cloning test subject, say, Jessica Alba. Or maybe Alan Greenspan, since he could do my pathetically complex yet puny taxes.
But Science has been conspicuously silent on the matter of robots. We already know that robots are great dancers, but that's not the kind of skill set we're looking for. I mean, Rocky had one back in 1985 that actually served him breakfast. Hot damn!
Fortunately, Konami and Hudson have created a robotic future in Rengoku: Tower of Purgatory . Robots, it seems, have been created to replace soldiers, but eventually they also replace reality TV and are made to battle for the entertainment of humans. Didn't we already tread this ground in Battlebots? No matter. If the future of entertainment is as bleak as they imagine, Science might as well keep my domestic slave …in exchange for a clone of Ms. Alba, of course.
You play as A.D.A.M., an android that has recently developed a consciousness. Your search for answers behind your sudden existence leads you through the labyrinthine floors of the mysterious Tower of Purgatory, fighting off scores of non-conscious androids the whole way. Unfortunately, Rengoku's flawed action and somewhat underwhelming RPG elements keep it from fulfilling its prophetic vision.
That vision, at least at first, is very promising. The randomized items and level design give the game a Diablo feel, and the retreat to the very first floor after every death smacks a little of the seminal Rogue. Add to this a Mech-worthy arsenal, nice customization, the ability to fight wirelessly and some really sizzling opening CGI, and you get what sounds like a pretty solid mechanical monster.
But like a robot with its head on backwards, the game wanders around aimlessly as the various RPG and action elements get in each other's way. The randomized floors never change once you have been through them the first time, and you keep most of your weaponry when you die. This might be a relief for some, but I had hoped for a randomized experience every time I ventured into the tower, making strategy more adaptable to the gambling aspects of finding random items and battling random monsters. No such luck.
The plentiful weaponry attach directly to your android. Each of the four face buttons is assigned to a different body part, so the combinations are just as diverse as the number of weapons. For example, you might sport a grenade launcher as a head, a howitzer as your left arm, a sword as your right arm, and a chain-gun sticking directly out of your chest. Each is drawn differently, and one of the game's coolest features is watching your android evolve from a weakling protocol droid into a massive metal gear monster. By spending the game's equivalent of experience points, you can create even more slots for weapons and armor. Like a high-tech Swiss-army knife, you are.
The majority of the game's strategy lies in the acquisition and assignment of such death-dealing prosthetics, but finding weapons can be difficult in the early going since the number of items that fall off your opponents is directly proportional to how much damage you do to them as they are dying. This is more difficult than it sounds, because only certain weapons can hit a dying android. A howitzer, it seems, doesn't put a dent in a robot, while the nifty chainsaw pops off weapons and armor like imitation Legos. Oftentimes I found myself scouring the lower levels of the dungeon to get a chainsaw, a relatively weak weapon, because the plasma rifles and rail guns just didn't do enough after-the-kill damage.
Slowly but surely, it all starts to fall apart due to some bad design ideas. Despite the ability to equip four weapons at once, you can only fire one at a time. The increasing number of assignable slots makes little difference, since weapons and armor assigned to secondary slots only become useable once the primary slot's weapon is completely out of ammunition. Having only one option at a time seriously impedes the promise of customization. Like a rusty can-opener, you are.
This doesn't put you at a serious disadvantage, though, since your opponents are simply mindless, colored clones of yourself. Although their weaponry changes, their rudimentary A.I., speed, size, and look are all boringly consistent throughout. Without any enemy variation, the strategic element of the game thins quickly. Even the boss battles are more of the same. It is sadly ironic that the game delivers such mind-numbing, unconscious gameplay when you play a recently conscious robot. Like Johnny Five, you are not.
Although the computer A.I. is pretty bad, it's also pretty invisible. Seeing as how there are no objects behind which to take cover, the enemies cannot really be blamed for staying out in the open. Each room of the tower is woefully the same - sparse and square - so battles usually devolve into simply unloading your weaponry at your opponent.
Remember how the customization was ruined by only allowing you to fire one gun at a time? That's nothing - the action element is ruined by the inability to move while firing that one gun. Wow. Standing and shooting, your android will quickly lose interest in its newly-acquired consciousness.
Meanwhile, you'll lose interest in the bland delivery right off the bat. In addition to the repetitive brown rooms, the robots themselves don't animate smoothly. The game's music is either good or bad depending on whether you agree with Eminem's mantra: "nobody listens to techno." Well, Mr. Shady, it appears that a large number of robots would beg to differ.
There are only a few nice things to say about Rengoku as a portable game. Ad Hoc wireless play does work, which would have been great had the game itself been any good. Its load times are also mercifully short, so at least you're not kept waiting.
Although frankly, there's little reason to rush into this rusty robot. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Rengoku's few cool ideas are short-circuited by bad design and boring gameplay, which is a shame, since it all seemed so promising from the outset. Can robots cry?