Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit is a game about breasts.
No, that's literally it. In case you're new to the series, allow me to explain: the entire Senran Kagura franchise is an up-front (no pun intended) piece of fanservice starring an all-female cast of infeasibly well-endowed schoolgirls who also happen to be ninjas. And who, unsurprisingly, end up exposing themselves and kicking each other's clothes off during each fight.
It's embarrassing, harmless and cringe-inducing stuff that could have been titled Carry On Shinobi, but in a surprising twist, both Senran Kagura Burst and recently-released Shinovi Versus were excellent portable fighting games in their own right. I thoroughly enjoyed both and would recommend them. Unfortunately, as a breast delivery vector disguised as a rhythm game disguised a cooking game spinoff, Bon Appetit has its work cut out.
Having spent two games embroiled in bitter turf wars for honour, revenge and boobs, the students of the embattled Hanzo, Hebijo and Gessen Academies decide to sign up to a cooking competition. It's the sort of premise you'd expect from a holiday special in a long-running anime series, and delivers the same level of story advancement and characterisation too. Each character may have their own motives for signing up, but their personal tales are generic, surface-level affairs that pale in comparison to how well Asuka, Ikaruga, Katsuragi and the gang were fleshed out (again, no pun intended) in Shinovi Versus. Still, it can be fun to see the cast having fun and pursuing some bizarre agendas in a new setting.
This cooking competition, presided over by lecherous old shinobi Hanzo, acts as window dressing. You have no choice over the dishes you'll cook or the ingredients you use, rather, it's effectively just an excuse to get the girls bent over a work surface while hammering away at a scrolling rhythm game.
If you've ever played the likes of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f or Guitar Hero, the basic principle is the same. Each character you face in a 1-on-1 Iron Chef-style showdown boasts their own song, which plays out as your chosen heroine chops, scrubs, slices and jiggles in the background. D-Pad and Face Button commands scroll along two lanes at the bottom of the screen, rewarding you points if hit in perfect time with the beat, which then informs whether you or you opponent will delight Hanzo and keep your clothes on in the process.
Because, of course, the loser inexplicably gets their clothes ripped off and sometimes covers themselves in ice cream before posing naked on an enormous dessert. Oh Senran Kagura.
The mechanics are based around the girls as opposed to cooking. Don't expect special chef abilities or magical knife skills; rather, each song is split into thirds, allowing Hanzo to deliver interim judgement, strippings and fill up a Heart gauge. If you perform well enough, special Heart commands will appear on the lanes, which changes the camera angle to an upskirt view mode. You can activate an extra scoring mode by hitting enough notes too, akin to Star Power, but otherwise the rhythm gameplay is incredibly straightforward.
Which is to say that it's excellent from a technical standpoint! Based on the gorgeous Shinovi Versus engine, Bon Appetit is fantastically responsive, accurate down to the millisecond and features exceptionally crisp visuals. The entire dressing room and touch-sensitive 'interaction' functionality (read: dressing up your heroines in a wealth of unlockable outfits, then prodding them in a full-screen touchscreen mode) has been ported over in its entirety, allowing Shinovi Versus DLC to be natively supported as an added bonus. It could, indeed, have been the foundation for another surprise hit.
Sadky Bon Appetit drops the ball in a crucial area: the soundtrack. Each of the numerous characters may have their own J-Rock or J-Pop song, but the quality is wildly inconsistent. Even the best pieces sound like background music for a Senran Kagura boss fight, while much of it feels like musak and is painfully uninteresting to listen to. Rhythm games thrive on the quality of their backing music, and compared to the likes of Theatrhythm or Project Diva, Bon Appetit falls hilariously flat, making what appears to be an enormous amount of replay value much more limited than you'd first expect.
Thus begins a slide into mediocrity. As mentioned, the storylines are throwaway and the characters are defined by their single personality trope. Difficulty swings all over the shop. And the whole affair gradually becomes incredibly repetitive even by genre standards as you plough through the same sub-bar tracks in the search for more lingerie.
On a personal level, this was also the first time that Senran Kagura threatened to become genuinely creepy rather than cheeky. To me there's a world of difference between powerful ninjas fighting each other, sustaining clothing damage and a result, and girls cooking to please a dirty old man who strips the loser naked. Call me a hypocrite, but that's how I see it. Thankfully the tone is zany and upbeat enough to stop Bon Appetit from becoming distasteful (phew!), but frankly, you already know if you're buying it. Nothing I can say will stop you, and nor should it I suppose, unless you haven't already played Shinovi Versus to death.
- Sharp and responsive rhythm gameplay
- Plenty of fanservice for series aficionados
- Impressively crisp visuals and high quality (low brow) artwork
- All-important soundtrack is disappointingly limp
- Lacks interesting cooking mechanics
- Quickly becomes repetitive
The Short Version: Lacking the excellent action gameplay of previous Senran Kagura titles and the superb soundtracks of competing rhythm games, Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit is little more than a mechanically solid distraction. Virtual voyeurs and committed fans may get their money's worth, but otherwise Bon Appetit is best avoided in favour of the infinitely superior Shinovi Versus and Project Diva f.
5 – AVERAGE: Average games are exactly that. Neither good nor bad, some clever ideas have probably been marred by patchy execution, or strong mechanics let down by a lack of scope, new ideas or ambition. Generally reserved for the completely unremarkable. The realm of the apathetic.
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed)
Publisher: Marvelous Games