The great French philosopher Rene Descartes once said, “He lives well who is well hidden.” It’s a turn of phrase that I’ve come to live by during my time playing Peach Beach Splash. Blinds closed, doors locked, phone on airplane mode. The harder I am to find while playing this game, the better. I’m a longtime fan of the Senran Kagura series, but it’s not exactly the kind of video game you can binge on a bus ride, or play with the family at Christmas. Regardless, if you love Senran Kagura or anything in the “anime for the lonely bachelor” genre, Peach Beach Splash has got you covered.
The latest entry in the series about sword-clashing ninja girls ditches the bladed weaponry in favor of being what I can only describe as “HBO’s Splatoon”. Your favorite Senran Kagura gals have been gathered to participate in a mysterious water gun tournament that has existed since ancient times. The winning team is rewarded with anything in the world that they want.
The narrative feels unsurprisingly light, with each story focusing on a different ninja school’s trials and tribulations during the tournament. Some of the stories were kind of bland, but my absolute favorite has to be Crimson Squad’s story, in which each girl tries something bizarre in an attempt to get famous on Ninja YouTube. In one chapter, a girl gets sick from consuming wild amounts of pool water, and is unable to be selected in the following story mission, which is maybe the funniest thing I’ve seen happen in this franchise.
Still, for as much fluff as there is in the story mode, it’s all tied together by deep customization and flashy gameplay. Peach Beach Splash has the largest roster to date with over 25 shinobi ladies to choose from, and even more unlockable through various missions. Unfortunately, the rules of the water gun tournament forbid the use of Ninja Arts and unique weapons, effectively meaning there’s no difference between the characters. Besides a unique (and clunky) melee attack, each girl plays exactly the same, meaning your character choice will mainly be a matter of personal preference.
This is made up for by the card deck system, to a certain extent. Beating missions rewards you with packs of collectible cards and currency that you can use to buy even more packs. Every time you get a pack, the visual of a plastic booster-pack pops onto screen, followed by the satisfying ripping of the plastic to reveal the cards within. Each card is either a weapon type, a monster companion, or an ability card adorned with art of girls from the cast.
Ability cards differ based on the cast member they use art of, and equipping them gives you various attacks and assists in-battle. A Miyabi card will always be a black-hole attack, while a Ryobi card will always be an attack boost, and so on. The cards also operate on a rarity system, which could boost attacks from 10% to 50% on the Ryobi card, for example. Duplicate cards act as experience points, instead of this being earned in battle. It’s a weird change, but character levels are rebalanced to take into account the lower amount of exp you’ll be getting compared to previous games.
Customising your loadout doesn’t stop at card abilities, as there are several different weapons to use in the game, with each one boasting an alt-fire mode and a different set of jumping and dashing abilities. The dual-pistols give you bunny-hops and Vanquish-style combat dashes, while the assault rifle gives you a jetpack and a quick flying dash. Each weapon is satisfying to use in their own ways, but while everything feels properly balanced for player vs player combat, story missions against hordes of enemies often make a few weapons feel obsolete.
Story missions also present another big issue, which is difficulty balance. When I started the game on normal, enemy encounters were laughably easy, so I decided to bump it up to Hard for more of a challenge and better rewards. While horde encounters were still a bit too easy, player battles were sweaty palmed tests of endurance and reflexes, suitably matching the difficulty I had chosen. Boss fights, however, are utterly broken, with most of them involving timed bullet sponge encounters that are just truly impossible unless you get a much stronger weapon or go to a much lower difficulty mode.
Overall, though, playing the game is fun. It’s weird, in that it doesn’t really operate like a normal third-person shooter. Characters move so fast, and have such small hitboxes, that encounters tend to last for a while. Without relying on auto-aim, it’s hard to feel like you’re really hitting anything a lot of the time. Gameplay is also often brought to a harsh stoppage by the “Squirmy Finisher” system. When you down a character, you can run up to them and press square to enter a first-person minigame in which you spray the defeated girl with a water-shooting rubber ducky until a piece of her clothing falls off.
It’s Senran Kagura and that means there’s fan service, I get it. Unfortunately, the Squirmy Finisher mechanic overstayed its welcome almost immediately. Other Senran games tend to toss these cloth-tearing moments in once or twice on a mission when a character is defeated, but with how quick defeats happen here, plus the fact that characters respawn, I very quickly ended up just ignoring the button-prompt entirely after defeating my opponents.
There are other ways to seek out titillation if you so choose. Character customization makes a full comeback, allowing you to dress the cast in any manner of clothing or hairstyle you see fit. I immediately gave everybody their normal costumes, because the game starts the entire cast in identical pure white bikinis that, combined with the background-less text boxes and bright lighting, made it impossible to read any text in the game. There are also some wacky Soul Calibur style accessory settings in the game, as well as, uh, dynamic wet t-shirts.
The Senran Kagura franchise has explored a few different genres, from beat ’em up to Dynasty Warriors-action and even rhythm games. It seemed inevitable that they would take a stab at something like a third person shooter, and I think they managed to make a solid hit. Peach Beach Splash is not a groundbreaking, esports experience, but its mindless fun, with quirky characters and addictive customization. Fans will probably be more willing to overlook the flaws in the game, but newcomers should still find something worth hiding from their family in Peach Beach Splash.
Version tested: PlayStation 4