SNK’s first two Sengoku games put players in control of a sword-swinging hero, with the neat ability to switch to a different character during play should they wish. Coupled with a variety of enemies to bash they were not essential titles, but could still provide some decent fighting fun. The second game built on the first, but the third goes in a different direction. Arriving eight years after the second instalment and handed over to a different developer (Noise Factory), Sengoku 3 is not simply what came before with some additions. In fact, aside from the similar aesthetic that puts the ancient together with the relatively modern it seems like it’s from a different series.

At the start, you pick from one of four (new) characters to battle through six stages of enemy forces, with a second player able to buy into the game at any time to help you on your adventure. Your character options vary in their agility and power ranging from the speedy, but light striking ability of Kurenai to the slow but powerful attacks from the lumbering Kongoh. There’s no character-switching ability this time around, although should you continue upon losing all your lives you can go for someone else as is common to the genre. The only other time you can select a different fighter is after the third stage when two others (actually two of the bosses you have defeated by this point) join your party.

Those first three stages can be tackled in whatever order you wish. The China stage is labelled as easy compared to the hard Italy and Japan ones, but apart from an easier boss battle (this one doesn’t join the team) there’s not a big difference in challenge. Some further variety is provided on the fourth and fifth stages (Brazil, USA) thanks to branching paths giving you a couple of ways to reach those boss battle.

Visually the game adopts a more cartoony look for its characters with smoother animation and varied and detailed surroundings. There are good touches like skylines reflected in puddles and fleeing (and screaming) crowds. Each stage has a different look such as Japan that sees you fighting across rooftops at night, city and it’s neon visible in the background as you keep moving down, eventually arriving at a tube station. Italy has you outside during the day walking over a bridge and fighting by water, while China sees you end up in a museum. Other locations visited include sewers, clifftops and more streets, giving you a range of sights to take whilst you pummel the bad guys.

The action is backed by a good selection of yells, screams and noises for different attacks. The music is wonderful too with generally moody, adventurous music that uses a good range of instruments. In your quest you’ll be fighting a range of ill-looking foes, such as green-skinned sword and spear-men, purple-skinned jumping dagger-women and another purple skinned foe who can send bats at you. The different enemy types also come in different colours, though none are particular healthy looking. Indeed, upon defeat, your enemies decompose. Aside from human attackers you’ll also be up against acid-spitting frogs, viscous dogs, a balled-together mass of heads and strange werewolf-like creatures that attack by somehow spitting their own head at you. Throw in some other dangers like spiked floors, electric beams and boss battles against the likes of a samurai a phoenix and a gun-totting guy and there’s a lot of different things to contend with during your adventure.

A good variety of foes is welcome in a scrolling beat ‘em up, but where Sengoku 3 ups the entertainment is in providing you with plenty of ways to take them out. You have two attack buttons (one is for weapon attacks) and mixing these together can lead to devastating combos; a combo meter building your attack power the more successive hits you land. Jump, dash and throw abilities add to your offensive options and throw-able items such as shuriken, bombs and even plates can be picked up and in fact stockpiled (up to nine); helpful for taking out attackers from a safe distance or integrating into your combo attacks.

Get surrounded and there’s a move available to knock down your tormentors at the cost of a small portion of your own health. Each character also has two-three special attacks that use a portion of the power gauge that builds as you land attacks. These special moves vary in nature, being whirling or flaming attacks or bringing in duplicates, but the input commands are shared across the fighter lineup. Keep building up your power gauge and a devastating 'Ultimate Ninja Arts' attack becomes available to attack all onscreen enemies.

The game can get tough when the various different enemy attacks come together, requiring a mix of skills to deal with and boss battles can be tricky too when looking for an opening to attack. Stringing together big combos helps to deal with this challenge and health restoring food can be found throughout the levels – sometimes on restaurant tables, but generally just lying on the floor as tends to happen in games of this type.

If looking to see how the events of the game unfold, unlimited continues are on hand to make this easily achievable, but it’s more fun to limit the credits used or maybe go for a single credit and more lives and/or lower difficulty setting. For a set challenge, HAMSTER’s usual Hi Score mode is on hand to see how well you can do on the default settings with a single credit and the five-minute Caravan mode is also available. These as well as the regular arcade mode have online leaderboards for you to improve your placement on based on points scored; points increased by your attacks as well as the collection of items such as coins, gold, vases and a Neo Geo Pocket.

Conclusion

Sengoku 3 ditches the nifty character-switching ability of the previous instalments, but makes up for it with a wide-array of attacking options. Gameplay remains straightforward, but it's immensely satisfying to string together attacks to take out the waves of enemy forces. Decent presentation and good enemy variety (and their different attacks) leads to enjoyable playthroughs whether solo or with a friend. For Switch-owning fighting fans, Sengoku 3 is an excellent choice of scrolling beat 'em up.