Platform: 3DS (import)
Developer: Marvelous AQL
Publisher: Marvelous AQL
Ahem. That’s the sound we frequently made when playing Senran Kagura Burst on the train, quickly shielding our 3DS’s screen whenever we activated its transformation sequences, where its female ninjas lose some clothes.
You could excuse Senran Kagura Burst for being mindless fanservice dribble to appeal to an anime otaku audience, and who’d blame you? When producer Kenichiro Takaki revealed that his desire to make the game originated from the thought of animated jiggles in the third dimension, it’s easy to expect the worst.
Look past the fanservice, though, and here lies one of the most compulsively addictive games we’ve played in a long time.
Senran Kagura Burst – refined semi-sequel to 2011′s Senran Kagura: Portrait of Girls – first appears to be a simple side scrolling beat ‘em up, but the more time you spend with it the more compelling it gets.
Despite each level type barely fluctuating from the norm, Burst’s combat system is a joyous triumph, boasting layers of depth and satisfaction within. So much so that you’ll still be discovering new things to do with each of the game’s 12 characters long after you’ve played through every mission.
Burst’s twelve characters each have two main attacks, weak and strong. A combo tree on the bottom screen – which begins as a small root of choices but grows over time – helps you find your place early on, but linking weak attacks into strong ones is key.
Dashing is a boon, too. A quick tap of the A button will see your ninja girl zip across a few enemies’ paces; great for dodging attacks and catching foes off guard, but also key to chaining combos. You can also tap the R button to clear the area if a group of foes swarm around you.
Strong attacks will send all opponents flying into midair, and the game will give you a split second visual and audial cue where you can dash straight to your flying enemy, where you can continue that combo until you hit the ground.
Fill up a green power meter and you can transform, drastically expanding your ninja girl’s powers.
It’s a system that has real finesse to it, as you (excuse us) rack up 1000+ combos through clever use of dashing and special Ninpo attacks, which vary depending on chosen character. Assessing each Ninpo’s strengths and weaknesses and using the best to fit is key.
As a result of all this fist flying satisfaction it rarely gets tiresome. While enemy AI is generally thick and enemies weak (half of all enemy types pose as fodder), some do offer a genuine threat, especially so if you’re starting the level off with a depleted clothes metre (yes, this is an option). It’s surprising to see the weak/stupid orchestrate their attacks so well with the strong/smart.
Senran Kagura Burst actually makes a large point out of its clothes metre with its Yin and Yang play styles, which depend on your ninja girl’s appearance. Clothes on is Yin, offering a fine balance between defense (you begin with a maxed out clothes metre).
Yang on the other hand makes your swimsuit-clad girl sprint and dash faster, upping any damage dealt out in the progress, especially from Ninpo specials. But it lowers defense considerably, making it easier to die after a single hit. Suddenly those enemies you underestimated are worth worrying about.
A relatively easy mission can be transformed into a different beast if you play it in Yang mode, especially if you wish to obtain the highest rank.
Of course, while a marvelous combat system helps make Senran Kagura’s repetitive level structure (only shaken up by the odd boss battle – mainly against other ninja schoolgirls – a timer or destruction/collection quest) a great deal more engaging and meaningful, it is a shame there wasn’t more variety here.
Burst’s new content – a second story – livens things up a bit with more challenging enemy types and levels (some of the side missions take place in excruciatingly tough timed conditions) but level variety remains basic. Again, it all seems like air for the combat system to breathe in but it’d be nice if that air was kept a little fresher.
Things are let down a bit further by a wonky framerate. It’s a gorgeous game, with highly detailed character models, detailed environments and smooth edges by way of 4x antialiasing, but this is felt in how choppy the action can get. It’s still playable, but sometimes the action reaches almost unacceptably treacle-slow levels, making it difficult to dodge enemy attacks and follow the busy action.