Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the first time that the series has bounced onto a home console, and in many ways, it's dressed itself up for the big occasion. Estival Versus exudes a level of polish – particularly in terms of presentation – that previous PlayStation title Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus simply didn't possess. Sure, much of it looks the same, and the art direction is identical, but there's a neat and tidy quality to this latest entry that makes the game a colourful and flamboyant visual feast – even when you're sitting on the main menu.
Of course, you may not agree if you're not a fan of the franchise's incredibly liberal use of the female form. Those who enjoy the property will know exactly what they're in for; this is a title that makes Dead or Alive 5's jiggling obsessions seem tame by comparison, and it goes without saying that the sexualised content that's on display here is going make some people uncomfortable. We're going to assume that you know what's in store when it comes to this particular property, and if not, all that you need to do is glaze over some screenshots or watch one of the game's many trailers – you'll soon see exactly what we mean.
With that inevitable blabbing out of the way, let's get down to business. Estival Versus is a solid action title with an abundance of content – but the series still hasn't quite reached its potential as a hack and slash joyride. Much like the aforementioned Shinovi Versus, the release is accessible and sports some entertaining gameplay, but mechanically, it lacks a certain rush that's present elsewhere in the genre.
And that's mostly down to the core combat. Alternating between boss fights against other characters and Warriors-style brawls with numerous generic opponents, battles are at the centre of the experience. There's some light exploration here and there, but it generally boils down to running through corridors to get to more open areas where combat ensues. As hinted, taking on your aggressors is enjoyable for the most part – combos are flashy and there are some great looking special moves – but there's a slight slowness to proceedings that stops things from ever really taking off.
You'll unleash a torrent of attacks, chase your foes into the air, and then pummel them some more before smashing them back down to Earth. It's fun the first few times, but these basic aerial combos make up most of the action, and by the time that you've unleashed the same flurry for the 50th time, it just gets a bit stale. It also doesn't help that many moves just don't carry much weight; it may sound like a joke, but a lot of the action feels a bit too soft at times.
Fortunately, combat does get better as you level up your favourite characters and their movesets are expanded. While the game never offers up the sort of depth that hardcore action fans will demand, there's still a slight learning curve here that rewards you with some crazy looking combos once you've got the hang of it.
Again, though, it's just a shame that the action doesn't unfold at a faster pace. Even the standard evasive dash doesn't feel, well, very evasive, and general movement can often seem rather janky and stiff. Sadly, the camera only amplifies this issue, as it has a bad habit of swinging away from you character's back when you're knee-deep in enemies.
With a fighting system that's fun at times and disappointingly flat at others, you'd think that Estival Versus has botched its chance at earning a recommendation as an action game – but that's not strictly the case. While combat does have its problems, it's in no way bad enough to detract from what the release gets right elsewhere. This is particularly true of the playable character roster, which provides plenty of crazy personalties and fun fighting styles to choose from – just doting over your favourite shinobi, levelling them up, and learning their combos can be an entertaining way to spend time with the release.
What's more, the title's got a solid structure to it, as you whack your way through the story mode and unlock side stories and bonus missions as you progress. Whether you're following the plot or replaying stages to get a better ranking, missions generally only take around ten minutes to complete, so there's a nice pick-up-and-play mentality at work here, and obviously, the accessible gameplay only adds to this. Speaking of the story, it'll take you a good ten or so hours to see it through in its entirety, and that's without delving into the optional character-specific tales. In short, there's a generous amount of content to explore – especially if you're out to see every secret and unlock every custcene, music track, and additional costume.
The narrative itself unsurprisingly isn't anything special, however. It's a classic case of all of the property's characters being tossed into an unfamiliar world, and their only means of escape is through battering one another. Simple stuff, but fans will no doubt enjoy seeing the interactions between Asuka and the gang – of which there are many. Almost every shinobi gets time in the spotlight here, and there are some genuinely well written comedic moments scattered about, believe it or not.
Even though Estival Versus' single player offering can keep you twiddling your analogue stick for quite some time, perhaps the game's biggest surprise is its suite of online multiplayer modes. This competitive component is shockingly robust, featuring various takes on multiplayer staples such as Capture the Flag – in this case Capture the Bra – and Team Deathmatches.
Clearly, a lot of effort has gone into pushing Senran Kagura as a multiplayer platform, but we did have trouble finding suitable opponents; some modes support up to ten different players, and we often struggled to find full rooms. And then, even when we did, it's no surprise that matches just devolved into total chaos, particularly when generic computer controlled enemies are also thrown into the mix. Still, if you're up for a bit of online mischief, you could do a lot worse; Estival Versus certainly isn't the most balanced or refined competitive experience, but like the rest of the game, there's fun to be had if you're in the mood for it.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus doesn't stand out as an action game, but there's more than enough enjoyable content here to keep fans happy. An imaginative character roster and expansive storylines ensure you get enough, er, boing for your buck, and the title's presentation is top notch. As always, if you can look past the game's controversial exterior, you'll find the beating heart of a reasonably solid hack and slasher.