With the Senran Kagura series, developer Marvelous has already served up several saucy dishes – but PlayStation Vita exclusive Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! sprinkles a little extra spice into the bubbling broth. A rhythm game with a culinary twist, this curious cook-‘em-up sees the property’s now infamous buxom ninja babes slaving over a steaming saucepan – just when you thought that it couldn’t possibly get anymore sexist.
Don’t worry, though, because we’re not going to ding the not-so-delicious release for that immediate observation, as this game has bigger problems than its premise. The setup’s largely inconsequential: Master Hanzo has organised an Iron Chef-esque tournament, and that brings all of the sultry shinobi to the kitchen. And what’s their prize for winning the – inhale – Super Dish Gourmet Cook-Off? A secret scroll that grants a single wish, of course.
The primary single player campaign is chopped up into a sequence of stories, each of which consists of five stove-based skirmishes. To break up the culinary combat, you’ll be treated to a handful of text-based cut-scenes, which add flavour to the fighters. These plots best resemble those encountered in Carry On comedies, as one character wishes for a world in which all futomaki rolls are “thick and wide”. Cue a neverending stream of male anatomy gags.
Admittedly, some of the writing is sharp, and it caught the segment of our brain that appreciates gutter humour off guard a couple of times – but when coupled with the questionable art style, the title definitely steps over the line in places. There are sequences in which the protagonists will openly analyse breast size, and considering some of the characters barely look of age, well, the not-so-innocent innuendo slips into uncomfortable territory as far as we’re concerned.
It doesn’t stop there either: win a food-based battle convincingly, and, in Hanzo’s subsequent taste test, he’ll unwittingly strip your opponent of their clothes. There’s no real reason for this other than to titillate – and the same is true for the subsequent desserts that you get to observe your subject’s bare body nestled inside. There are some straight up zany cinematics – one of which involves a giant corn on the cob – but the majority of the game is just plain embarrassing.
However, we could tolerate the uneasiness if it was fun to play, but the rhythm part of the release is drab. Music ranges from rock all the way through to a chorus of synthesised kittens, and the title sees you matching button prompts along to the beat. While you’re attempting to follow the fast-paced music, the screen will show footage of your heroine and rival slicing and dicing – albeit purely in the food preparation sense.
The graphics are, frankly, incredible – but because your attention will be focused on the note highway at the bottom of the screen, you won’t really have time to appreciate anything else. This static approach has since been overhauled by the likes of Hatsune Miku, but apparently Marvelous didn’t get the memo. Chain together notes and you’ll be able to pull off a special move, which allows you to earn even more points.
The problem is that the whole battle system’s not entirely clear. There’s a tug-of-war at the top of the screen that’s supposed to reflect who’s winning the ongoing bake-off, but it’s possible to completely obliterate your opponent in the first two rounds, and then lose the overall battle because you missed a handful of notes in the final stage. Even though it only takes two or three minutes to repeat a recipe, these ambiguous failures will make your blood boil.
There’s not really a lot to the game either. Granted, there’s a specific campaign for each character – with more to be added as a post-release side order – but you’ll quickly start seeing specific dishes and songs repeated, with only the different plots providing you with the motivation to keep playing. You can participate in an arcade mode or individual battles if you prefer, but this mostly comes down to the exact same thing, with the silly storytelling removed.
Of course, there’s a wardrobe for you to kit out your character in, with various bits and pieces of lingerie to pick from – but if you’re not into playing dress-up with disproportionate anime dolls, then you’re not going to get a whole lot of mileage here. Naturally, you can poke and prod them like a medium rare steak if you’re so inclined – or even peel back their clothes with a shaky finger. We did warn you that it was a bit weird.
Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! is totally tasteless, but that goes without saying. This game’s biggest problem is that its culinary combat simply isn’t interesting enough to hold your attention, and with bland battles, there’s not a lot here to get excited about. Well, that is unless you like naked ninjas panting at you while perched upon a plate of whipped cream – whatever turns you on.