I’m loving this new trend towards less-violent shooting games. There’s something inherently exciting about shooting game mechanics, but they’re almost always tied to violence—understandably so, given the genre’s origins, but it’s always nice to see games question the ubiquity and necessity of violence as the main form of interaction. Gal*Gun turned a rail shooter into a sort of dating sim; Splatoon gave us a colourful multiplayer shooter about painting turf and spraying opponents with bright ink. Now, Marvelous and Tamsoft bring us their approach to the non-violent shooter with Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash.
This game sees the lovely shinobi of Senran Kagura taking a break from their ninja training to take part in in the eponymous water gun tournament. Instead of the beat ‘em up action of the core Senran Kagura games or the rhythmic cooking of Bon Appetit, Peach Beach Splash is a team-based third-person shooter—think Gears of War, but instead of bullets you’ve got water guns, instead of grey and brown you’ve got bright colours, and instead of gruff angry men you’ve got joyful, fun-loving, beautiful women.
The game begins with select members of the series’ four main ninja schools—Hanzō, Homura, Hebijo, and Gessen—being mysteriously invited to participate in Peach Beach Splash, as part of the midsummer festival. This is a tournament that apparently has a long history among ninja clans, with shinobi from all walks of life being invited to take part. More importantly, it’s a chance for everyone to unwind, run around in swimsuits, drench one another, and maybe shoot each others’ bikini tops off, all in the spirit of summer fun and friendly competition.
Basically, it’s a bunch of adorably silly, lewd nonsense, which is exactly Senran Kagura’s wheelhouse. Racy humour underpins everything, from the way tournament hosts Miss R and Mr K flirt with one another, to fourth wall – breaking jokes about the need for more fanservice, to cinematic “kills” where you spray a downed opponent until her bikini top (or bottom) goes flying off. In one early story scene, the girls from Gessen Academy learn that the best way to fire a gun, even a water gun, is to squeeze the trigger rathan pulling it; naturally, this leads them all to squeezing their breasts as a form of practice for the match ahead. This is the sort of humour that Senran Kagura thrives off, and Peach Beach Splash is no different.
Silly as the whole premise of the game is, the game manages to be as heartfelt as it is lewd, particularly in its story mode. There are four campaigns, one for each school, and though they’re relatively short at 10 missions each, each one manages to tell its own little arc, giving the girls involved plenty of opportunity to bond and grow. Senran Kagura gets a bad rap from people who don’t play it for seemingly being not-quite-porn masquerading as a game—and I’ll admit, I’ve similarly written it off in the past. In truth, it’s a series about young women finding love and comfort in their friendships (and more) with one another; the lewd humour is a part of that, but not the only part.
In addition to the main story campaigns, there are also a handful of special episodes that you can unlock by various means. These are shorter stories, typically focusing on two or three characters at a time, and they’re told entirely through text and CG stills that bookend a couple of PBS matches. Many will prefer the full animation and volume of the main stories, but I enjoyed the way the special episodes manage to tell brief, cute side stories in the space of a few minutes. Top that off with an arcade-style tournament mode that sees you rising through the PBS ranks with your favourite characters, and there’s plenty of single-player content to work through.
Still, Peach Beach Splash is a game made with multiplayer in mind, and that’s probably it’s biggest failing. This is partially due to a relatively small community, to the point that I’ve struggled to make much traction through multiplayer at all simply due to how difficult it is to find other players. When I do find a match, it’s usually a few minutes of frustration, and then back to the matchmaking menu for another bout of waiting.
When I say “frustration”, know that it’s coming from the perspective of someone who generally doesn’t like multiplayer shooters, but I found Peach Beach Splash to be more annoying than most. Put simply, the shooting mechanics are unwieldy, most of the guns are difficult to put to good use, and there’s a surprisingly steep learning curve in using the variety of mobility tools to not get killed. The UI isn’t all that helpful when it comes to find enemy locations, and the damage dealt by weapons comes across as arbitrary when I can pump an enemy full of water for what feels like weeks and get nothing, only to get blown away in a single burst.
This is less of an issue in the singleplayer modes because the enemy AI isn’t great, so it’s easy to exploit and find easy victories. Either way, though, the actual game at the heart of Peach Beach Splash is probably the weakest part, and even in story mode I found myself wishing I could just skip the shooter parts and get back to the cutscenes.
Peach Beach Splash also makes loot boxes a core part of its meta-game, joining the ranks of so many other games. In lieu of characters’ regular ninja abilities, this game lets you equip cards that have various effects when activated, such as restoring health or reducing an enemy’s accuracy. Unneeded cards can be used to level up your weapons, increasing their damage output. To get these cards, you need to earn or buy card packs by winning matches, spending in-game currency, or buying them from the PlayStation Store.
If you want to be the best, you can spend hours and/or dollars getting card packs, hoping for powerful, rare cards, and using the fodder to strengthen the cards you already have. People who spend more have a clear advantage, and there’s a constant temptation to buy more packs. People far smarter than me have outlined how predatory and immoral loot boxes are, whether they’re cosmetic or gameplay-affecting, and it’s a real shame to see another game dragged down by their inclusion.
It’s especially frustrating because there’s a wealth of cosmetic DLC content available, which isn’t tied to Skinner boxing or encouraging addictive behaviours, and I’d imagine that this DLC will be a healthy enough revenue stream even without the addition of loot boxes. Give me new characters, silly hairstyles, give me skins that turn my assault rifle into a mochi stick, give me eggplant and cucumber accessories—I’ll buy them, as will many others. But don’t try to exploit us with the same psychological tricks that slot machine makers use to rob people. It’s not OK.
Fortunately, if you’re only really interested in story modes, you can pretty much avoid the loot box issue, and the stories and characters are where Peach Beach Splash shines. I’ll always champion any attempt to put a non-violent twist on the shooter genre, and the water gun antics here are at times a delightful attempt at that.
Sadly, the actual shooting game at the core of this is underwhelming, and the loot boxes leave more than I sour taste in my mouth. Instead of making me want to keep playing this one, Peach Beach Splash just makes me want to go back and play all the other Senran Kagura games again.
Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is developed by Tamsoft and published by Marvelous / XSEED. It’s available now for PlayStation 4.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.