Go ninja, go ninja, go!
HIGH The variety between characters keeps the combat fresh.
LOW Battles against low-level grunts are repetitive and often mindless.
WTF Massive screen-tearing during the opening cinematic.
The Senran Kagura series, though still relatively young, has been surprising and diverse since it first made its way to western shores a mere three years ago. Since then, the games have been 2.5D side-scrolling brawlers in the style of Streets of Rage on the 3DS, 3D brawlers in the style of Bayonetta on the PS Vita and PS4, a cooking game on the PS Vita, and a Japan-only card battling game for mobile devices.
What is perhaps most surprising, though, is that a series marketed solely on buxom anime girls has often been the talk of the town in brawler circles with each subsequent release. Now, with a PC port of the series’s first 3D foray, audiences who don’t own a Vita can experience a pivotal entry in this curious franchise for themselves.
Shinovi Versus, originally on PS Vita, is a marvelous PC port. The game runs at a crisp and consistent 60fps with only minor visual glitches that, for me, did not affect the gameplay. Also notable is that the controls are fully customizable, and there are even a few options that show that the developers put some serious time and care into this port, such as the fact that the game starts in a borderless windowed mode. Perhaps the only thing that did not survive the port was the opening video (a hand-drawn anime scene) that had pretty egregious screen-tearing. Though it was a poor first impression, I encountered no other problems to that scale throughout my play experience.
The game’s visuals are largely appealing. There are times when it’s clear that it’s a port from the Vita, as some character and environmental models seem a touch too low-poly for the upscaled resolution, although some models can look especially smooth, so obviously some work has been put into improving these aspects.
Senran Kagura’s battle system is quite deep for a 3D brawler. Attacks are broken up between light and heavy attacks, and combinations of these buttons can trigger different sequences, mostly used for launching enemies into the air. Once enemies are airborne, the player can dash to them and continue with a long air combo, finishing by either slamming the enemy to the ground or initiating a subsequent air combo.
Where the combat gets interesting is with its two transformation states. Once the player fills a power bar, they can trigger either a Shinobi Transformation or Frantic Mode.
Shinobi Transformation triggers a costume change into a signature outfit, refills the player’s health, boosts attack and defense, and allows access to extremely-powerful special attacks—it basically makes the character more powerful all-around, and the timing of this change can sways the tide of battle.
Because this change can be seen as a one-time refill of the life bar, players are encouraged to do as much damage as they can before triggering this transformation. This often turns into an uphill battle against a transformed and more powerful shinobi while the player carefully manages her health, waiting for just the right moment to swing the odds back in her favor.
If the battle is going especially well, the player can choose to trigger Frantic Mode. This mode takes away 10% of the character’s health, strips her down to her undergarments, significantly boosts her offense, and reduces her defense. Combos become easier to chain and deadlier than ever, and also allows access to special attacks. This mode is a way to end the battle quickly—either the character becomes an unstoppable train of fury, or she becomes too vulnerable and succumbs to enemy attacks.
There are more than 20 playable characters, and each has a wildly different weapon and moveset. The variety in the fighters is perhaps Shinovi Versus’s greatest strength. Though no fighters will fundamentally change the way that the game is played, players will have to consider each girl’s strengths and weaknesses when approaching each situation.
There are some excellent customizability options available for each girl and players can change outfits, hairstyles, and accessories. The costumes are all thoughtfully and exquisitely constructed, giving even more visual variety to a game already quite diverse in stylistic options to begin with. Items can be bought for easily-obtainable in-game money, and all of the DLC from the PS Vita version has been included in the PC version at no additional cost.
The only criticisms I have are relatively minor. I am a bit annoyed that the on-screen cursor can’t be hidden, particularly since this game is best played with a controller. Also, some of the smaller cannon-fodder enemies are a bit too prone to blocking, slowing the game’s pace to a halt while the player has to wait for them to lower their block before attacking.
Finally, I have to address the sexual elephant in the room—if players find the marketing of Senran Kagura to be uncomfortable, the game itself does nothing to assuage that feeling. Shinovi Versus proudly wears its sexy-anime-girls badge, and it permeates every aspect of the game—from the battles punctuated with slow-motion shots of the girls’ jiggling breasts and butts as clothing tears away, to the writing in which more conversations are held discussing boobs than any other topic.
While Shinovi Versus is undeniably masturbatory in its depiction of female characters, players who aren’t bothered by that fact will find an excellent brawler. For those who are bothered by it, it will be a consistent and difficult-to-ignore problem at every level. I myself have mixed feelings about it, but I can at least appreciate its consistency, as it never pretends to not be pandering to the horny teenagers of the world.
Overall, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is among the finest examples of modern-day 3D brawlers. Though not as technical as a Bayonetta or God Hand, its wide variety of characters keeps its lightning-fast ninja battles exciting and fresh to the end, and it comes highly recommended to those who don’t mind a little (okay, a lot of) T&A in their fisticuffs.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 13 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 1 hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is Unrated on PC but contains: partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, and violence. The game is very sexually-focused and contains weapon combat, though there is little or no blood.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game plays just as well without audio and all dialogue is subtitled.
Remappable controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
Colorblind modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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