Capsule Review: Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash

A third-person arena shooter starring busty schoolgirl ninjas armed with water guns. After four brawlers and a rhythm game, a shooter is a refreshing change of pace - but is clearly outside of the developer’s area of expertise and the experience is not up to the series' usual level of polish.

Comparisons to Splatoon are obvious, but misplaced. Instead of weapons that reinvent combat for liquids, Peach Beach Splash has a standard array of pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, and more that supposedly shoot water but act like normal guns. (A grenade launcher that lobs water balloons makes sense to me, but how is the homing rocket launcher supposed to work?) The only levels that take advantage of the fact that you’re using water guns are a few in which you have to find and put out fires - the rest are standard arena shooting.

The action is tweaked more toward rapid movement than precision aiming - there’s aim assist and everyone has a water jet pack for zooming around. The default control scheme doesn’t support this very well, but thankfully you can remap the controls and I strongly recommend swapping the fire mode toggle and the aim-assist toggle (on shoulder buttons by default) with the jump and boost buttons (face buttons by default). This way you can actually control your movement, aiming, and shooting simultaneously while jumping or boosting. (Disabled players may need more adjustment, of course.)

Several aspects of the game reflect a lack of polish. The gunplay kinesthetics are weak to the point where an early criticism of the game was that it was very difficult to tell when you were actually dealing or receiving damage. (The game’s 1.04 patch band-aided this by adding a “HIT!” message that shows when you’re damaging an enemy and a directional indicator when you’re taking damage to point you to where it’s coming from.) The single-player content’s difficulty curve is all over the place and AI partners are essentially useless. Despite the prominence of the series-standard outfit customization, the “squirmy finishers” that give you an opportunity to soak downed opponents always show them wearing their default swimsuits.

A few of the mechanics standard to the series have been converted into rough equivalents. Character-specific special attack ninja arts are replaced by collectible and upgradeable skill cards while shinobi transformations are replaced by a temporary protective barrier that characters receive when they drop below 50% health. These both feel kludged in, especially since you can still be one-shotted from full health with no barrier appearing. This has a bizarre effect on weapon balance as it means there’s a huge difference between a weapon that deals exactly your max health, which kills you in one hit, and one that deals just one point less, which gives you several seconds of invincibility and a chance to recover.

The story is also a new low for the series, being essentially a less-sensical retread of the plot of Estival Versus minus even that game’s good character moments. Part of the problem is surely the unmanageably large cast which is now up to thirty three playable characters without DLC. But it’s also starting to look like the creators no longer have any idea how to advance the franchise narratively. Burst tells an interesting story about the nature of good and evil, which Shinovi Versus develops further. Deep Crimson moves things forward, but that story is considered complete and unlikely to be revisited. Both Estival Versus and Peach Beach Splash keep things in a frustrating stasis, gesturing vaguely at an upcoming threat but not actually making progress toward it, instead contriving decreasingly-plausible reasons for the girls to keep fighting each other. As the early installments' story, characterization, and moral depth were what kept the series interesting after the salacious novelty wore off, this leaves me pessimistic for future titles in a series that was once one of my favorites.

I Stopped Playing When: I played through the single-player content including the main story campaign, the side stories, and the CPU tournaments. I also tried some online play. I did not purchase any DLC or complete most of the optional objectives (which are much grindier than in previous games).

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

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