How to Senso
- System: Mobile/Android
- Publisher: Gung Ho
- Developer: Turbo Studios
- Release Date: April 27th, 2017
Super Senso Launch Trailer
Who it Caters to
Super Senso is the first released game of Turbo Studios, a relatively new studio that was formed by several veterans of the industry, including talent from Square-Enix, Nintendo, and Riot Games. Their mission: to put out games for gamers, by gamers; or so it says on the official Turbo Studios website, anyway. Considering Super Senso released exclusively on mobile, a platform normally regulated to cheap cash-in titles directed towards casual gamers who are only looking for something to kill 5 or 10 minutes, this is an interesting direction. And don’t let its freemium roots fool you: Super Senso is a legitimate strategy game, and is directed squarely towards anyone who’s sick of cash grabs in lieu of a richer experience, while still adapting the mechanics of the genre to a freemium pay model.
What to Expect
You’ll fight in a gridded battlefield, very similar to something like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. Each player has a base they have to protect, and whoever can destroy the other’s base first will win the match. However, don’t think you can just send wave after wave of units to defend the base, as every time your opponent kills a unit when initiating the attack, they’ll build up their combo meter on an amount based on the unit that was killed. Then, if the bar is filled up, at the end of their turn, they’ll automatically launch an assault on your base, dealing immense damage. Not only that, but the combo meter can be built up for a max of three bars on a single turn. Naturally, if it manages to get that high, such an attack will do insane damage. You’ll be able to keep building units per turn based on a resource that gets partially replenished every turn, but you’ll start off the match with one pre-built giant mech called a Senso; hence the title.
You’ll notice that we listed the number of Players as “1-2” in the description. While this is technically true, Super Senso is almost entirely PvP based, matching you up against random online opponents who are roughly around your skill level/progression through the game. Anyone who is looking for a more story-oriented strategy game like Fire Emblem might want to look elsewhere, as Super Senso is entirely competitive in its nature. You only start off with one environment at first, and then as you win more online battles, you’ll gain stars, and with more stars, you’ll unlock new areas. Don’t lose too often though! Losing a battle will also lose you stars, and if you go under the threshold, you’ll no longer be able to battle in the higher ranked arenas.
There’s not much story to be found in Super Senso. Basically, aliens are invading, and you have to fight them off. That’s about the gist of it. The launch trailer does have a tongue-in-cheek implication that there’s a corporation selling you everything that you use to fight, implying that their profiting off this constant war, but it’s not really important. It’s meant more as window-dressing to ease you into the game and to perhaps temper your frustrations if you end up getting frustrated. Basically, don’t take it too seriously and just enjoy what they throw at you.
This wasn’t a bad strategy, but frankly some of the writing can be a bit too cheesy for its own good. For example, when you max out your combo meter, you’ll do “1337 damage”, as in “1337 speak”. It’s a bit outdated to be relevant to anyone who’d be playing, but not old enough to fall into being enduringly cornball. Or at times, it won’t even make sense; such as the Ranger reciting a list of what she keeps in the bathroom and then telling the player to get out of her bathroom. We call it overbearing because you have to go out of your way to read or notice any of this, but it does feel like it’s trying a bit too hard to be random for the sake of being random.
As mentioned in the opening, Super Senso is a freemium game. This is handled by loot chests that you gain by either winning a match, or, if you can build up your Keystones by either buying them from the store or from opening up other chests, you can buy chests with even greater rewards or drops within. These will give you unit cards, which is how you’ll build up your units. See, in between matches, you can pre-select which 5 different types of units you can summon from your base, along with your starting Senso. Getting a new card will unlock the corresponding unit; and then, as you amass duplicate cards, you can, in turn, use those to power up your currently existing units. This does take up a separate currency in Bytecoins, but it’s recommended you not hoard them because upgrading units nets you experience to level up your base, increasing its HP and how much damage you’ll do with your aforementioned charge attack.
This underlies the central, major issue with Super Senso, which is the level it expects from the player right out of the gate. The game starts with a very brief tutorial mission (we’re talking like 10 minutes tops for a complex strategy game), and then throws the player right into the swing of things. Expect to die a lot at first. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, except the game punishes you harshly by losing stars for a defeat, meaning that you can lose the ability to play on later maps. While it seems like this was mainly used as a means for controlling the match-making in the game so that more skilled players can play on more complicated maps, this can also get frustrating because it can give you a false sense of your own skill level. When we started out, we blazed right through the first few matches and immediately unlocked the second arena, only to then get paired up with someone with vastly more experience than us, knocking us right back down to the first planet. After that, we got stuck in matches against other, similarly tough opponents who also had gotten knocked down.
Because of this, the game really could have used a story mode of some kind to ease the player into its core game. Not necessarily something that’s super long or in-depth, but there’s not much you can do to get practice with the core game without experiencing major losses. You can enter a practice match from the deck building screen to test out your units, but this doesn’t really do much but just give you a feel for how the units work since the computer only builds cheap units for you to destroy over again over again. This doesn’t do much for actually incentivizing you to get better at the game. The closest you get are the Challenges, which provide you with pre-selected units and request you fight off a computer-controlled enemy team. A fine idea, but it’s hard to say if we really got any better at the game because of what we learned while playing these (if anything), or if it was because beating a couple of the 5 currently available got us enough Keystones to unlock a super rare chest that happened to unlock the Ranger unit, which was largely fundamental in mounting our comeback.
But before we continue, we do want to offer praise in how the game handles its unit distribution. Rather than overloading the player all at once, you’ll unlock new units that will come from loot chests when you move up in the ranks. This does mean that the game gives you ample opportunity to master the current units before throwing a ton more at you at once. It’ll add more to the pool as you unlock new battlefields. This does mean that as you progress, getting what you want will start getting more and more difficult. But even if you get overloaded in repeats, the game never feels like you’re ever given something you don’t need, thanks to being able to use repeat cards to upgrade current units. There’s a really nice interplay between all the different reward systems in the game, each one spurring on the other. It’s really satisfying to just win in this game, especially since you’ll at least get a normal chest for winning a battle.
And, speaking of satisfying, let’s talk about the combat! While it does take a while to get the hang of it, once things click, it really does feel great to get that first real win. This is due to the offense-oriented nature of the game, rewarding you more for going on the attack thanks to the combo meter. Sometimes it can get a little too tempting in strategy games to play defensively and stay just out of reach of enemy attacks and fight them off with counter attacks. This doesn’t work too well in Super Senso though, since, not only are counterattacks significantly weaker than when you initiate combat, you also won’t build up your combo meter if you kill an opposing unit with a counter attack. It’s better for the most part to rush an enemy and pressure them into striking back. This was a smart move considering that most people looking for a mobile experience aren’t looking for a drawn out back and forth. Matches still might take a bit longer than expected for the nature of the system, but ultimately you’ll find that combat moves fast and quick.
But, one small complaint we have with the combat is actually an artistic issue. The art direction in this game doesn’t feel all that distinct, to be honest. Everything has this weird angular style, which looks serviceable in promotional art, but in combat, the units lack definition. While you can generally tell Sensos, ground troops, vehicles, and aircraft easily enough from one another, it can be a real pain to try and distinguish your different classes of units within those categories. This can make it difficult at times to immediately identify both your enemies and your own units. You can always look at their stats to get a sense for what they are, but frankly, we wish that the characters were distinct enough from one another so that wouldn’t be necessary. It bogs down the play, having to check each unit just as a reminder of what they can do.
Super Senso is pretty rich in its content and underlying gameplay systems, but it’s lacking a lot in the smaller details that build up a game from a solid time-killer into an especially memorable experience. That’s not to say it doesn’t try, mind you. It does feel like the writing genuinely is making an effort to get a chuckle out of you, and the art style is certainly attempting to be eye-catching. It’s just that these aspects don’t go far enough. The art has this oddly polygonal feel that’s almost retro-chic in a PS1/N64 era type of way, but also wants to still look modern and polished. And the writing, while certainly coming from the right place, generally misses far more often than it hits. If you can look past those issues, though, and don’t mind putting up with the losses, you might find a pretty solid strategy game in there.
If you’re not into strategy games, Super Senso might be a “pass” for you, unless you’re really willing to put in a few hours to get the hang of it. But, honestly, you also may not be the target audience in that case, as the game has very little to offer other than strategy. If you’re a strategy nut and were let down by Fire Emblem Heroes’ rather simplistic take on the genre and platform, you should consider giving Super Senso a shot. You might find a fun little game to pass the time. It’s free to get started, so what do you have to lose?