Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash Review
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Platform: PlayStation 4
Price: $49.99 for basic digital edition, with a few goodies thrown in on deluxe versions
Senran Kagura comes from a team that knows what it wants to do. They've found their niche and they're running with it. Taking fanservice to it's inevitable extreme, the games in the Senran Kagura series are unapologetic in their depiction of the female physique. Each of the character's personalities may be unique, but they're all traditional anime tropes. This being said, the developers aren't afraid to try different genres. These buxom ninjas have battled each other and throngs of enemies in combat, via card games, and even in a cook off. Now, they take aim at the third-person shooter genre. Given the cuteness and presentation of the series, it wouldn't be good to go killing anyone off in a bloodbath, so the storyline goes that all the shinobi from the opposing teams are inexplicably invited/forced into an "ancient" water gun tournament. As I said in my Estival Versus review, the developers know how to make a great game, but they rely on their femme fatales to sell the game even when the gameplay is fun underneath.
When I reviewed Estival Versus last year, I got the core idea of what Senran Kagura is about. Yet, in spite of all the extreme fanservice they threw at you constantly (having all-female enemies and health that's represented by how much clothing you have left on, with very compromising finishers), I was impressed that they were able to keep an interesting and cohesive storyline. Sure, you were inundated with an unending wall of fanservice, but you could enjoy the reasons behind the girls wanting to battle, winning a tournament and seeing it through to the end. From my time with Peach Beach Splash so far, it's been distilled even more. The different clans are all invited and mysteriously teleport in. You can see their own confusion, and for some, concern, as they are quite literally invited to participate in a water gun tournament, forbidden to use their unique ninja skills, stripped to bikinis, and told they are competing for an ultimate prize of whatever they want as their antics are broadcast live on the game's equivalent of YouTube. It's really jarring how Senran Kagura can keep chugging along doing its own thing while the rest of the gaming community is talking about equality of genders, races, body types, etc. Perhaps the niche market benefits them, but if newscasters got ahold of a copy they'd have a heyday!
Some of the girls jump at the chance to soak each other, be it their own perverted minds and desires or the desire to win a hundred years worth of meat. Others are ashamed to be there, quite literally apologizing to others as they soak them with water. There is only one guy in the game, as one of the hosts it's his job to fill the airwaves with as many double entendres as possible. Eventually, the girls eagerly join or quietly succumb to the idea of a water gun tournament. Paper thin story, pretty exploitative, just to get girls in bikinis to shoot water all over each other.
There are plenty of modes to play in, guaranteeing you variety in your time with Peach Beach Splash. A traditional storyline mode allows you to pick your favorite of the four teams and lead them through a ten-stage storyline to become the victor, and beating all four stories unlocks a final mode that wraps up the tale. Side stories, called "paradise episodes," usually follow a bonus story that has nothing to do with the tournament. Then there's the V-Road Challenge, a tournament where you go through a series of battles to see who reigns supreme.
Story mode is like Dynasty Warriors with guns. Tons of weak enemies swarm you, and it's your job to take them down. Eventually you run across another named character, and have to take down a smarter AI. This is interspersed with anime scenes or shots of the girls talking and bouncing along in their plans to become victor. They stand beside each other and talk, and you imagine the scenario. Side stories require a bit more imagination, primarily being text on screen between battles. In the V-Road Challenge, you create a team of girls and strive for victory. You can really break down this mode, crafting a set of girls with particular guns and power ups that can be a force to be reckoned with. There are also a bevy of multiplayer modes, but they are rather barren given the fact that the general population aren't in there to play against, so that will likely require a secondary review once the game releases.
Each girl I've played as seems to be very unique in how they are controlled. They may be slow and powerful or fast and agile, but they each provide a unique experience. Battles win you zeni (the game's currency) and card packs. These randomized cards are used to equip your characters with special abilities, different weapons, or spent to level up characters, weapons, or other cards. By the time you pick your character, weapon, set of three special card-based moves, and spend experience points, you truly have a character you can call your own. This amount of customization really adds value to the title, giving you a reason to push through and become stronger, therefore becoming more of a powerhouse on the battlefield.
Zeni are used to purchase aesthetics, from bunny ears to new outfits. Therein, you take these items and play dress up in a main menu section. Whatever outfit you put on the girls transfers over to the main game, so you really can make things your own. It's about needed, because every girl starts in the basic white outfit. Spending a little time in the dress up menu makes each girl more unique and easier to keep track of, as there sure are a lot of them. Also in the dressing room, you have the option to...umm...interact with the girls. You can set them up in dioramas and poses to take pictures, or go into an "intimacy mode" and zoom where you wish, or activate hands...yeah. Like I said. The developers aren't ashamed of what they've done. At least modes like this are optional, and not required to fully enjoy the experience.
The basic gameplay loop is rather fun. Instead of relying on pickups, your water guns simply need to be pumped and primed to keep your ammo full. There's a wide range of guns, too, from basic handguns to grenade (water balloon) launchers and even a sniper rifle. Traditional shooter players will be able to find a fun, arcadey version of the gameplay they know and love. Your goal is to soak your opponents enough that they succumb. Once they do, you can do a finisher much like Estival Versus. Awkwardly, coming up to a defeated enemy allows you to whip out your rubber duckie and target various pieces of clothing, which proceeds to fall off, with just enough modesty to cover up the most private bits. Again...the developers aren't ashamed. Even the act of pumping the water gun is done in a suggestive way. In Estival Versus, I found menu options to tone down some of this sexuality, but there's none of that in PBS.
I have a difficult time openly recommending such a game to the general public, but by and large, the fans already know what they are getting into. Peach Beach Splash is the most straightforward display that I've ever seen out of the Senran Kagura series. Basically, storyline is thrown out the window for an attempt at putting these girls in compromising situations. But, like I said in my Estival Versus review, there is a strong engine underneath all the fanservice. Much like Splatoon, rounds are quick, lighthearted, and fun. You aren't out to save the universe or kill the enemy, it creates a mood of genuine silliness that you don't usually see in the shooter genre. It's an "arcade shooter" for people who just want a bit of fun. It reminds me of how I can't play an NFL/NBA style game because I know nothing of the rules and usually get trashed, but really love playing arcadey games like NBA Jam, win or lose. I stink at online shooters, because everyone else is so professional I can't keep up. Peach Beach Splash offers a mood and simplicity that I could see myself having a good time with in its' short, five minute round bursts. The engine is solid enough that if it was done with neutral characters instead of this buxom bunch, it could still be a great time. I've rolled my eyes at a lot of lame brain ideas coming from the characters mouths, how suggestively pumping a gun puts water back in it, and the whole point of getting saturated in levels with knee-deep water that you are running and rolling through, but time in combat is thoroughly enjoyable.
The Senran Kagura team have shown that they really know how to make games. They can make just about anything be an enjoyable experience, but they just love throwing their ladies in and hypersexualizing everything. The game is simplistic enough for a newbie to play, but deep enough with leveling for an advanced player to enjoy. I can see it as very difficult to introduce anyone to the series without a lot of strange glances. The aggressive sexualization of this series is difficult for me to work around, but if you are already a fan of Senran Kagura, Peach Beach Splash will be right up your alley with more of what you expect glossed over a fairly decent tournament shooter.
-Under the hood, the game has a fun engine and premise
-It's neat to have an "arcade mode" style shooter
-Genuinely humorous situations unfold as the story goes on
-Bright, colorful maps and fun scenarios are a welcome addition to a dark genre
-Plenty of unlocks will keep you busy for a long time
-The fan service is extreme. Really throws the whole "equality" thing out the window. It's a ton of fair-skinned shapely females being put in compromising positions that they either don't want to be in or enjoy far too much
-Taking away the swords and limiting to "water damage" pulls away some of the uniqueness of playing as individual characters and makes the game repetitive
-The gap between the AI of the "minions" who run at you and the nimble main character opponents is jarring
-Seriously, folks. You make good games, and wonderful engines. Howzabout a family friendly game in the same style?