Senran Kagura is a Japanese multimedia property featuring young, busty girls training to become shinobi. The franchise earned notoriety for its blatant sexuality and fanservice as battle damage is represented by ripped clothing and the girls always find themselves in suggestive shenanigans. The video games, the most recent being Shinovi Versus, typically involve the struggles and skirmishes between the Hanzo school and their bitter rivals at the Hebijo academy. Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit replaces brawler combat with rhythm based gameplay as the girls sear, steam, slice, dice, and chop their way towards a once in a lifetime prize.
Hanzo, master shinobi and all around pervert, has launched a cooking competition where the winner will walk away with a magical ninja scroll that has the power to grant one wish. Whether or not the scroll actually has such power is left in the air because, as those familiar with the character will know, Hanzo’s perverted nature often casts him as an unreliable narrator who will do anything to get the girls riled up. His aloofness is quite indicative of Bon Appetit’s as a game because not many come into a Senran Kagura title looking for a life changing gaming experience.
The franchise is, and always will be, about gravity defying boobs and the girls who have them. In that respect, Bon Appetit is true to its source material like no other video game on the market. While the Hanzo and Hebijo girls are don't use their mystical ninja powers to undress one another, their cooking skills are more than capable of doing just that. The format of the game will be familiar to those familiar with Senran Kagura. The player selects a character and experiences the story from their point of view. In this scenario, the girls have their own reasons for winning the magic scroll, be it Asuka’s desire to spread the joy of futomaki rolls, Katsuragi’s dream of owning a harem, or Ikaruga’s desire to instill the virtues of proper discipline.
I expected Bon Appetit to play along the lines of Cooking Mama but got something closer to Guitar Hero instead. The core gameplay involves tapping specific buttons to the rhythm of unfamiliar pop tunes in order to build up chains and influence a tug of war meter that determines how successful your food dishes are. Perform well enough and your dish will be victorious and the loser’s clothes torn to shreds. A power mode is earned by maintaining a stream of successful hits that can dramatically shift the battle in your favor. This is especially useful for moments where a particularly difficult sequence has you against the ropes. Later levels and harder difficulties can make levels pretty difficult as the speed increases and more advance patterns require deft finger work.
Solid as the gameplay is, the real meat lies with character customization. Winning each round awards new clothing options that lets you change the appearance of the girls, from their lingerie and hairstyles to a suite of goofy accessories like rabbit ears, pacifiers, and glasses. Any costume changes carry over into subsequent playthroughs and offer a nice visual variety. Playing dress up is a nice way to break the visual monotony of the default outfits. There is even a camera mode that permits special viewing options to inspect your costume choices from every angle. Just don’t look up their dress, or they’ll have some choice words.
Playing dress up is fun, but the game's real thrill is in the frequent dressing down. The characters are almost always in various stages of undress. If the player performs extraordinarily well in each match, the loser will be completely stripped naked save for some strategically placed cutesy faces. During play, a special heart item will pull the camera away from the cooking arena and offer an intimate close up of your opponent as they take a break to pose suggestively (this is actually more distracting than sexy, especially during complicated and strenuous rhythm patterns). The final prize of each round is a unique dessert course, where the loser is presented as the topping of a fruit and berries dish, their bodies covered in whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. The girls aside, these dessert plates look legitimately tasty and make creative use of strawberries, banana slices, and blueberries.
It goes without saying that Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit is pretty ridiculous. On the one hand, the game can be rather tasteless as it goes out of its way to sexualize its female cast as much as possible. On the other, at least it owns up to its prurient presentation. So many games try to squeeze in character sexualization in a way that feels forced or push buttons. Senran Kagura knows what it wants to be and rolls with it. That may not be enough for others to excuse the game for what it is, but I can appreciate honest and goofy, sexy fun. I only wish the game element was more compelling and interesting. Rather than it be Guitar Hero with boobs, it would have been much more fun to use the Vita’s gadgets to simulate the creation of the game’s savory delights.
With a multitude of character customization options and out of control boob physics, Bon Appetit has everything one could expect from a Senran Kagura title. If the gameplay were given the same attention and creativity as the girls, it could have been amazing. With ten characters to play with (plus another 11 available as DLC), additional clothing options to unlock, multiple difficulty levels and game modes, there is plenty to keep Senran Kagura fans busy for a little while. It may not be as action oriented as previous Senran Kagura titles, but its simplicity ensures that there is little to get in the way of ogling pretty girls.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.