As we know all too well, having been spoilt by Dead or Alive, any game that involved outlandish breast and booty physics isn’t complete without a sunny beach and some volleyball gear. Needless to say, this idyllic setting goes hand in hand with Senran Kagura and its penchant for virtual pageantry. Without even reaching the menu, players are given front row seats as a shirtless conclave of shinobi strip down to their swimwear, suggestively splashing away at one another.
Whether this happens to be your jam or forces you to curl into a cringe-induced foetal position, we’re not here to judge. Although the thematic side of Senran Kagura is definitely not my own personal taste, I can certainly recognise that there is a sizeable audience for this type of game. These gamers, as niche a group as they are, have formed genuine bonds with the series’ characters and happily immerse themselves in all kinds of shinobi shenanigans.
Going back to Estival Versus, there’s logic as to why this troupe of scantily-clad ninjas have suddenly convened at what appears to be a tropical resort. Instead of embarking on an impromptu getaway, the game’s heroines have been summoned by a strange power. Very soon, players discover that everything isn’t what it appears to be. As the first chapter in this saga begins to unspool, you stumble upon a phenomenon known as the Millennium Festival where the spirits of the dead return from beyond the grave.
Although fairly easy to follow, the story gets bogged down by the inane chatter between characters. Some of it may be pertinent to the game’s unfolding narrative yet most dialogue is wasted on superfluously developing Senran’s extensive cast of characters. Any inner motivations that exist are often masked by overt character traits. Where some of the girls can come across as studious, bossy, or curious, others are openly grabby and flirtatious, and there are one or two masochists thrown into the mix.
Much of the game is centred around one mode as players take on a series of arena-style missions. Each will initially lock-in a certain character, allowing you to get a feel for their individual fighting style. Once cleared however, you’ll have the option to go back and experiment with different ninjas, bagging yourself experience and money in the process.
The missions themselves take place in small, self-contained environments and are often peppered with objects of interest, like crates or surfaces that enable wall-running. As you progress through each one, objectives will periodically pop up, ordering players to defeat waves of enemies or perform special attacks.
If you’ve played any action brawler in the past several years then Estival will do little to surprise. The game serves up a basic suite of regular and heavy strikes alongside a handful of flashy moves for each femme fatale. There are meters to watch and enemy tells to look out for. It’s a basic affair yet one that comes together in a neat little package, and while it may not break new ground, it’s hard to pick holes in what is otherwise a competent battle system.
Mind you, even with thirty six playable characters to switch between, it doesn’t take long for repetition to set in. The brevity of these missions mean that they rarely overstay their welcome, before beaming players back to the hub menu in order to spend any points they’ve accumulated.
Aside from an online dojo, the only other modes on show are largely superficial, giving players the opportunity to revel in Senran Kagura’s heightened degree of “fan service”. When not watching movies, flicking through images, or listening to audio tracks, you have the option to dress your naughty ninjas up using a extensive variety of unlockable items. Particularly devoted fans can go one step further, creating dioramas using their favourite characters and costumes.
As a 3D action game, Estival Versus manages to tick most boxes, but it fails to deliver anything which could be labelled as ground-breaking. While in no way poor or unenjoyable, it does little to put this franchise on the map. Still, for fans of previous entries, there’s plenty of meat on the bone, bundled together in a respectably polished brawler.
Version tested: PS4