The Senran Kagura series is one that has been near and dear to my heart for many years and has followed me through several chapters of my life. I played Shinovi Versus shortly after I had joined 8BitChimp in Fall of 2014; I was in a very different headspace, struggling through college and working a dead-end retail job without any ambition.
I bought Shinovi Versus on impulse, spending the last of a meager paycheck on the physical collector’s edition while I was still living at home. I didn’t have any bills, car insurance, or rent to pay for; I was still inexperienced in the ways of the world. I expected nothing more than excessive fan service and solid action, and I wasn’t disappointed. I remember skipping the classes I was failing at the time and waiting in the halls, just mashing away the minutes until my next class started. Eventually, I grew attached to the game’s storytelling and characters, and as my life strayed from an ideal college experience, Shinovi Versus became one of my many escapes.
I missed the initial outing of the following title, the rhythm-based Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit!, but was very excited for Shinovi Versus’ true sequel, Estival Versus. My fortunes hadn’t improved much since 2014—same struggle through college, still working the same dead-end job. I reviewed Estival Versus for 8BitChimp, having enjoyed the game’s story and characters as much as the first game. I honed my fledgling writing skills in trying to sum up my 50-hour experience with the game, one that still resonates fondly today. Unfortunately, 8BitChimp was shut down in 2016, leading several of the editors, (including myself) to form Ground Punch.
In the early days of this website, chaos reigned supreme. We reviewed whatever we wanted when we felt like it, and most of the time I felt like reviewing games like Criminal Girls 2 or Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni. Thanks to my love of the Senran Kagura games, I became the go-to-guy for reviewing games with sparsely-clothed anime ladies—not that I minded. By Fall of 2016, I had decided to get a bit more serious about writing about games, and even tried to incorporate serious thematic conversation into some of my articles.
In December 2016, I applied for an internship at Game Informer magazine and my life has been a rollercoaster ever since. With two years of writing experience under my belt from both 8BitChimp and Ground Punch, I suddenly had a portfolio to be proud of, and ultimately got the internship. In the first week of 2017 I also got married, got my first tattoo, and went to Minneapolis for four months with Game Informer. When I returned home, I was wiser for my time there, and set about writing for a slightly more high profile site than Ground Punch. Since then, I went to Texas for Quakecon, met Shinji Mikami and Jens Matthies, started writing for an indie MMO, and started working on a game of my own. As I say, a rollercoaster.
But as I’ve turned my focus towards securing a career in the games industry, I wanted to do one last review for the website that made it all possible. Looking back at the games I’ve played and reviewed in the last few years, there is really only one correct choice I could have made for a farewell. Senran Kagura is a series that has been with me since I first started writing about games as a throwaway hobby, and I’m happy to say that the latest release, Peach Beach Splash is probably the best game yet.
Like Estival Versus before it, Peach Beach Splash transports all the lovely Senran Kagura ladies to an island paradise for a mysterious tournament. Without spoiling anything, the overall story is standard fare for the franchise— if you like that, then its more of the same. Katsuragi is still a boob-fiend, Asuka and Homura keep trying to kill/not kill each other, and Imu definitely has the hots for Miyabi. There are a lot of references to past games that fans will love, including one area which is from Bon Appetit!, not to mention a few late-game cameos that are sure to make series diehards smile. Thanks to some splendid localization, dialogue is always fun to read and the humor is as on point as ever; there were several moments that had me laughing out loud. As the series has found its niche outside of Japan, it’s good to see that it hasn’t sacrificed quality for near-yearly releases.
While there are still story arcs connected to each of the main four ninja schools, the character-based campaigns have been replaced with “Paradise Episodes”, which use the same format but revolve around more than one character. Aside from those two main modes, there is also a tournament mode which resets with every loss and has four progressively harder tiers to tackle. It’s a solid addition that occupied plenty of my time, but a lack of variety in objectives can make it feel a bit repetitive. However, coupled with the solid multiplayer suite, Peach Beach Splash is packed to the brim with content.
While the story and extra modes are enjoyable, the real fun can be found in Peach Beach Splash‘s new gameplay system is where the real fun is at. Third person water-gun shooting has added depth thanks to customizable card decks that provide players with additional options for attack and defense. Shooting is satisfying, while smooth movement allows players use their water jets to dodge, boost, or double jump through battles. There is a healthy assortment of weapons to choose from, and each is accompanied by different movement abilities. The rocket launcher, for example, enables you to boost-jump high into the air and rain down heavy damage on their enemies, while the dual pistols have a short hop for their boost-jump—but lets you powerslide while firing, keeping your character mobile while dealing modest damage. It’s a system that lets players decide what approach works best; I just wish there was more variance between the characters. With more than 30 characters to choose from, the differences are mostly only cosmetic. Given the unique gameplay differences of past games, this is a disappointing development.
The biggest addition to the Senran Kagura formula, as I mentioned earlier, is Peach Beach Splash‘s trading card system. Any match you complete, whether in single or multiplayer, will grant you a card pack with 10 cards. There are hundreds to collect across various rarity tiers, including additional weapons, skills, and pets that you can launch in battle. Duplicate cards can be funneled into existing cards and characters to level up their damage and usefulness. The system is a constant carrot on a stick; with hundreds of possibilities to upgrade and a card pack around every corner, players always have an incentive to keep playing.
The cards also go a long way toward customizing your unique play style. When you start the game, you have a deck of low-level buffs, attacks, and debuff skills. But as you unlock more cards, you can turn any of your favorite characters into a powerhouse capable of taking on an entire enemy team with fireballs and homing missiles. You can have a loadout consisting entirely of buffs and debuffs, or even just pets that follow you around and fire at enemies, giving your damage output that little extra edge. It’s an open-ended system that rewards player experimentation and teamwork.
Admittedly, the card system can also make the gameplay a bit of a mess at times. In single player, it’s not much of a big deal as AI opponents rarely hammer you with skill and pet cards, and when they do, it’s with little tactical consideration. But in multiplayer, players will launch constant salvos of fire and lightning. And when you’re stranded in a mosh pit of 6-8 players, it is near impossible to tell what’s going on. I was never truly frustrated by this, however; the over-the-top spectacle is such a big part of Senran Kagura‘s charm. With no crazy Ninja Arts to call on this time around, a constant flurry of explosions (and disappearing clothing) suffices just fine.
Multiplayer might be the game’s biggest disappointment. Not so much because it’s bad (it’s actually quite good) but because there is such a small player count currently. On PS4 just a few days after launch, games could take upwards of ten minutes to matchmake. The multiplayer suite is basic enough to accommodate a modest player count with it’s standard ranked and unranked modes, as well as co-op survival; unfortunately, the player count is much less than modest. It’s a damn shame—especially because there is so much potential for multiplayer depth with the game’s customization options, not to mention the hundreds of clothing options for the game’s plethora of characters. With a game as niche as this, it feels like an oversight to not include bots that are able to stand in for a full player count, and it really bums me out.
Senran Kagura has always been a colorful series, and on a standard HDTV, Peach Beach Splash looks fantastic, running at a consistently smooth frame rate even when dozens of effects and characters take up the screen. Animations are also smooth and impressive. Regrettably, being that the game’s engine was primarily developed with handheld systems in mind, Peach Beach Splash’s low-res textures (and a slight haze that appears on larger levels) really highlight its shortcomings. It doesn’t exactly hold the game back, but with the series’ popularity on the rise and the Vita on its death bed, I can’t help but wonder how long it takes for the series to take full advantage of the PS4 hardware. Perhaps we will see something similar with 2018’s Senran Kagura 7even.
My experience with Peach Beach Splash has been wonderful, albeit bittersweet. A fun game that bears all the hallmarks of a series that has followed me through several pivotal years of my life, it also serves as a swan song to my time here at Ground Punch. Its satisfying combat and addictive progression will keep me playing for months to come, and are sure to please longtime fans of the series. Bursting with color and personality, it’s carefree outlook and emphasis on chaotic fun also set it apart from average shooter fare. It’s the kind of game someone might take a chance on, only to fall in love with its story and characters; the kind of game to turn an impulse buyer into a longtime fan.
This review is based on the PS4 retail build of Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash