Review – Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash

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Those who follow Kenichirô Takaki on twitter know that Marvelous’s star producer is a big fan of western FPS. Despite being busy on its own projects, he still saves some time to play Call of Duty, Battlefield and the likes. From there, merging that interest with the Senran Kagura series was only a question of time, and here we are with Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash.

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The beginning is worryingly similar to Senran Kagura Estival Versus : the girls from the four shinobi schools suddenly get warped on some island paradise, where they are asked to compete against each other. Yes, that’s the second time in a row that the scenario writer comes up with some old tournament coming from nowhere… The teachers Kiria and Suzune are in charge of the commentary (in a hilarious way) of that strange competition in which the heroines will face each other using… water guns! To be frank, the five storylines felt anecdotal and the story in whole is once again quite meaningless. Nothing like the first episodes of the series, but with such a wierd main topic, building a serious narrative seems contradictory. It’s very clear (and logic) that the devs whould keep a light-hearted tone while trying an unnatural genre.

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The story still has some merits as it announces major changes in the timeline : central characters seem about to leave their respective groups, with very interesting perspectives, and others like Ayame officially join as main characters. Certain side stories are still lot of fun, like the now famous Ryôbi/Ryôna duo who never run out of ideas in their SM relationship. The way the story is told is still modest (simple dialog and plain text) despite being once more nicely illustrated. The narrative is slim and maybe the producer was aware of that, because Senran Kagura 7 is cleverly teased at the end and we can now expect the story focus to be back.

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The solo mode is composed with several storylines corresponding to each faction. Those mini-stories are themselves divided into short missions where you have to beat larges group of robots, other characters or an entire opposing team. The player has 4 life bars so as to withstand entire matches in which water is coming from all directions. Yet the normal mode is piece of cake and you’ll prefer hard or ultra-hard to enjoy it more : IA becomes a lot more aggressive, asking you to be fast and precise. Ally IA is a lot less satisfying as it’s totally erratic. They can sometimes clear the mission on their own, but in other stages you’ll have revive them constantly.

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While standard missions can feel tedious, this episode introduces bosses at lot more interesting and innovate than ever in the series. Those objectives are hard and make an intense and rewarding end for each storyline. You’ll have to fight giant robots, some in limited time, but there’s also a cool Easter Egg to the anime as you’ll be facing a giant Ryôna bathing. Last but not least, the final boss is absolutely glorious : fun, with crazy music and behavior, it makes the best use of the wacky side of the game.

Basic gameplay is voluntarily close to your average western shooter : you aim, fire and jump with the same buttons. No problem for players used to FPS or for anyone for that matter, it’s thoroughly intuitive to play. Like in any competitive shooter, Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash gives you the choice between a lot of weapons of various fire(water?)power, reach or firing rate. Again, it’s like any FPS out there so everybody can enjoy the game in its own playstyle, at close, mid or long range. The double jump being quite vigorous, you can achieve impressive aerials with the sniper rifle.

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The gameplay is based on aim assist, which can seem childish at first, but is justified by the very fast pace of the matches, where opponents’ moves are a lot more unpredictable than in Battlefield or Call of Duty. The jet pack for example allows you to go through the map at astonishing speed. Very clearly, players would spend their time missing with just manual aim. The focus is non stop action from the first second to the last, and it works pretty well : camping is useless, everybody has to move to get some points.

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But aim assist is no auto-aim and you’ll need to be careful to fire from a correct angle, otherwise you’ll just be throwing water into the air. Water storage is limited, so you have to refill liquid like you’d change ammo, making you vulnerable. You’ll therefore look for the scarce cover points to do so, or do it while jumping which accelerate the refill. In short and despite the new type of game, Senran Kagura keeps its dynamic gameplay.

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Adding to weapons, the game will ask you to prepare a deck of cards. This TGC is in fact a transformed version of the smartphone game Senran Kagura New Wave, the rules of which being adapted to Marvelous’s TPS. After each mission, you’ll receive a booster pack including several cards with a chance to get super rare ones. Exactly like how you’d by a booster pack in reality, in fact. There are several types with various effects : protecting/healing yourself, attacking opponents, boost your stats or hinder enemies’ actions. The diversity of those effects adds a little strategy in matches like you’d find in Call of Duty.

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The cards can be reused after a short cooling time. You can therefore use your entire deck several times in one match. And for the first time, you’ll be happy to get duplicates since all extra cards will be transformed in experience points and allow you to boost your characters’ HP and the weapons’ power. With a total of 821 different cards, the collection is vast and can keep you busy for some time. The only drawback of this system is that sometimes the cards are more efficient than shooting, which is contradictory to the central idea of the game.

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Senran Kagura being what it is, the competition will deliver its deal of risqué scenes. The kune kune finish replaces the puru puru finish in Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash : it’s about sprinkling water at maximum pressure on a KO girl to take off one part of her bikini. The game doesn’t falter on the fan-service it wants to deliver, and also the kinky angles of the defeat poses. Costume break is still on the menu, and now you have a selection of costumes that can get wet to see through them.

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Among the good surprises, you can now who you want to see as shop clerk in the in-game costume & accessory shop. The amount of fan-service clearly doesn’t disappoint, even though it’s less varied than in the previous game, and graphics & animation benefit from the PS4 exclusivity (richer animation and far more effects on the screen).

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The Georama allows you to make very fun, cute, but also very hot scenes thanks to the numerous poses and accessories. But the changing room mode is where we come to miss PSVita as the touching loses all the fun despite the fresh sprinkling.

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Like any shooter, Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash include online multiplayer. There are two main parts : cooperation and competition. The survival mode can unite up to six players who’ll have to protect bases against 50 enemy waves. It gets real hard at wave 30, so you’d better build solid teamplay to repel increasingly resistant foes. That’s when you can take advantage of the nure power-up : when allies splash you, you can benefit from an aura that allows you to fire (water?) at will without the need of refilling.

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In competitive ranked matches, the multiplayer get a lot less fun. Battles are 5 vs 5 players and include domination, team deathmatch and now capture the flag. The problem is that everyone has lvl 10 characters and weapons, so you don’t stand a chance unless you’ve grinded quite some time in solo play. Maps are rather tiny and movement very fast, so it gets very confusing most of the time, making it difficult to achieve anything. Weapon and card balance is still wobbly, so it’s not as accessible as the producer promised. Matchmaking isn’t very effective, taking long minutes to find players. Finally, lag is still bothering on 1.07, thing that didn’t happen in Estival Versus. So the competitive side isn’t living up to today’s FPS standards.

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash was a risky project giving its unexpected genre, but Kenichirô Takaki manages to establish a wonderful compromise between TPS and the Senran Kagura spirit. Despite the poor story, the successful conciliation of lavish fan service, fast-paced gameplay, high-end visuals and traditional TPS features guarantees a lot of fun for series fans. A shame that the multiplayers remains a half-full glass, but solo play has everything you need for enjoyment.

Preview – Tom Clancy’s The Division

TD

The Division is one of the «big 3» AAA I’m waiting for eagerly this year. Having missed the boat of the closed beta because I pre-ordered and registered too late, I’m more than happy to give it a try in the public version.

Not much blah-blah in Ubisoft’s beta. The story of the game is barely hinted at and you have to fathom what’s really going on in Tom Clancy’s New York. A highly dangerous virus is decimating the population, and at the same time, armed men calling themselves the rioters started to act violently within the city.

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Despite the scenario being vague, we do contemplate the fabulous atmosphere in this TPS/RPG. It’s Christmas time, it’s snowing, and yet an eerie silence looms on the Big Apple. The city’s last defenders (you) are preparing their counterattack in improvised HQ, there are decontamination facilities everywhere, you can see a memorial to the victims etc. The main musical theme adds the mysticism and your allies scream in the coms when the situation is really bad. The post-apocalyptic setting is fairly convincing.

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Graphically speaking, downgrade or not, it’s absolutely impressive. New York looks as real as you could expect and animations during combat feel very natural. The lightning effects and the changing weather make wonders. It’s tremendously good to look at, but I expected no less after Watchdogs’s magnificent Chicago.

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The command center is in shambles. Up to you to rebuild it by looking for key persons gone missing (medic, engineer), all this in order to reopen the various wings of the base (hospital, security and engineering). Once you’ve brought back the specialist, you’ll have to improve the department via its own exclusive ability points (for example, the hospital wing needs supplies points). Each time you do that, your character receives new abilities to be used on the field. Perfect transition to remind you that The Division is a true RPG, as you get experience points, level up and have to assign combat/support abilities to L and R.

Following the know-how from Watchdogs, The Division seems to already have the basics of a good open-world game. New York seems somewhat busy despite the tragic events, although stray dogs outnumber the panicked passers-by. But the most interesting point is that there’s already a big density of missions to be done. In addition the main story, several side missions are spread at nearly every corner : taking an enemy hideout, getting rid of a murderer, helping in skirmishes, freeing hostages, fixing a sabotaged antenna… Still, those missions feel more or less the same and aren’t as complex or interesting as Watchdogs’s so far. Funny thing : a sewer network has been modeled and you can move under the city.

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Fighting has proved to be quite exhilarating. Everything’s down to your capacity to find the best cover and change it when needed. Every attempt to attack in the open is pure suicide given that your character has little resistance. You therefore have to be clever and move while in cover so as to flank the enemy, or be quick and precise in crossfire. It’s urban warfare like we seldom see in video games. But there’s a snag : X button is for cover, and circle is used for jumping over obstacles, with the result that the player is likely to make unwanted inputs. So I’d say the precision of the controls is not for the best as it is. The weapons physics are astonishingly realistic : the kick of the M4 is monstruous. You do have to learn to adjust your aim and fire small bursts.

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But we are in an RPG and you’ll have to increasingly improve your gear. Like in Destiny, your character’s level needs to match the one of weapons and armor. The higher the level, the better the equipment is. And after that you can customize rifles with various accessories (suppressor, better scope, foregrip for better handling), which allows the player to personalize their loadout. Frankly, money looks hard to come by in this game and you can’t really rely on vendors. The best option is to loot enemies, method that gave me this little one. This is actually the Mosin-Nagant, a very old Russian sniper featured in the Metal Gear Solid series.

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Very quickly, you do realize that the challenge in The Division is no joke. Mission 2 is nearly impossible to complete. You need to empty 1 or 2 magazines to take out one rioter, and those possess a fierce IA : they move constantly, aim extremely well and overuse their stun grenades. And given the tricky shooting due to the realistic weapon physics, it turns out that you’ll need help. And help is here, because you can join a cooperative session like in Call of Duty Black Ops III. That is if you do understand the kafkaesque machtmaking, but once you’re in a party, the game is very hooking and the servers seem solid.

I’m satisfied of this beta because The Division is turning out to be exactly as I had imagined it : a connected, cooperative experience which mixes the pleasure and intensity of gunfight with the incomparable flavor of an RPG progression system.