Light and delicious
Some may call Senran Kagura inherently tasteless, but the series of action-packed brawlers has depth and satisfying combat. The games have swept the handheld community mainly because of their increasingly risqué content, but their best-kept secret is that they’re just plain fun.
Yeah, there’s a whole lot of indecent exposure in each of the Senran Kagura games. No one’s disputing that. But so what? These are genuinely fun and engaging titles, and the latest spinoff under the Senran Kagura umbrella is no different. Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! may be lighthearted and riddled with thinly veiled jokes about male anatomy, but it’s also a challenging rhythm game skewed toward an adult audience that can be enjoyed by just about anyone — especially if you like your sundaes with Senran Kagura girls on top. Just don’t expect award-winning prose or Grammy-nominated tracks.
Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! (PS Vita)
Publisher: XSEED Games
Released: November 11, 2014
Bon Appétit! gathers the entire Senran Kagura cast for a cooking competition set up to offer the winner a scroll that can grant a solitary wish. With such an astonishing prize on the line, word travels quickly to all the sprightly young ninja as they enter the cook-off to nab the scroll for themselves. Of course, it’s all a front, a scheme from a geezer who wants to see the girls traipsing around in sexy aprons, but you can’t fault an old man for trying. The girls give it their all and set out to humiliate one another in the name of making their dreams come true, and that’s where you come in.
Once you’ve started the game proper, Story Mode is where you’ll want to head first to unlock special outfits, accessories, and extra content. You can choose from a healthy amount of the Senran Kagura girls, like Asuka, Ikaruga, Hibari, Hikage, and the rest of the gang. Each girl is saddled with her own brief snippet of visual novel-styled narrative as to why she’s pursuing the special scroll. Most are hilariously awful, littered with double and triple entendres that revolve around the male anatomy or breasts. Asuka is one of the worst perpetrators, but I was consistently astounded by the localization team’s unmatched efforts to go the extra mile and ensure line after line was simultaneously corny and sexually charged.
It’s fairly impressive, to be honest, and despite how absolutely inane it can be, refreshing to see a game nearly devoid of male characters take casual racy speech and toss it out so carelessly. It may be considered fanservice “for men,” but it certainly isn’t the men the girls are not-so-subtly flirting with in-game, and that’s something I can get behind. If I were a lesser person, that could have been a dirty remark, but I’ll refrain for the purposes of this review.
After you’ve chosen a girl you’ll partake in a multi-stage cooking competition, which locks your girl in fierce combat with varying opponents. Like a racier Iron Chef, dishes are established at the beginning of the match for both parties to create, with both girls assigned a station and their own cooking tools and materials. Except you don’t ever actually do any cooking. Instead, you whip up the tasty meals assigned to you by way of pressing buttons in time to the beat — this is a rhythm game, after all.
Near the bottom of the screen are two tiers where symbols corresponding to the Vita’s face buttons appear. It’s your job to hit them as the music plays, a la Bust A Groove or PaRappa the Rapper. Sometimes you’ll need to tap the note until the number above it reaches zero. You’ll have to hold notes occasionally as well, while tending to button presses above or below it. The directional buttons come into play as well, so you’ll have to think fast when two are on-screen at the same time. It’s quite challenging on the highest difficulty setting, especially when it comes to songs with a higher BPM, though you’re never given the option to select a song for each stage.
There are three breaks in each song where the judge (the lecherous Grandpa himself) takes a moment to sample the dishes you’ve crafted thus far, and if you’ve managed to keep your ninja’s meter full (as opposed to your opponent’s color filling the bar) you’ll come out on top. If by the end of the match you’ve created the superior dish each time, you’ll emerge victorious. At the end of each judging round, the player on the losing end of the battle will have her clothes ripped in strategic places a bit more each time until she’s left totally naked but for chibi anime faces to cover up the naughty bits — because we’re not adults here or anything and a little bit of nipple is far more scandalous than making penis joke after penis joke — but I digress.
At the end of each song the victor is subjected to a “humiliating” pose in which they’re drizzled with chocolate syrup or various dessert toppings as they pose sensually. And then it’s gone, done, onto the next one, because if you want to see the rest of the characters, you’ve got to get to work unlocking them through Story Mode. Otherwise, you could choose Arcade or Free Play for the thrill of the rhythm game without the unlockables.
Unfortunately, the game’s biggest pitfall comes in the form of the songs themselves. They’re not exactly what I’d call memorable, with tunes channeling wedding marches, bizarre Christmas-like holiday doppelgangers, and a cavalcade of instrumental (and occasionally vocal) songs that are instantly forgettable. While you’re locked in a heated cooking battle, it’s easy to forgive this fact, but the most basic building block of a rhythm game is its songs. These songs simply aren’t strong enough to act as the backbone of a title that revolves solely around them. There are a couple with vocals that will at the very least stand out, but for the most part they feel like accompanying background tracks in any run-of-the-mill JRPG. Luckily, they’re just rollicking enough to provide a challenge and I suppose that’s all that’s really warranted here, though some cutesy pop songs could have spiced things up considerably.
Still, this is a surprisingly meaty title that’ll have you coming back again and again to best one difficulty level after another, even if it’s just to collect special accessories with which you can outfit your girls. They’re hilariously pandering (I chose a military outfit paired with a pacifier and cat ears) but they do alter the way your girl appears in each scene, even when she’s hard at work cooking. It also seems that band-aids are the lingerie of choice for most of the girls. Who knew? I was hoping for some hardcore BDSM gear to really round things out, but the best I could find was a collar. The outfits paired with dialogue snippets make for some side-splitting screenshots, but if you take them be forewarned that the Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! logo will be superimposed at the bottom right of each one for some unknown reason.
Everything in this strange little rhythm game comes together in some weird way, from the girls posing as desserts to the fact that this is a musical cooking competition. It’s a fluffy bit of cotton candy that works well with the core cast of characters, and Senran Kagura devotees as well as rhythm game fans alike should find something to enjoy here, even if it’s just the fact that nearly every character route has inappropriate banter.