Not long after making their western debut on the Vita, the Senran Kagura shinobi are back in a more different approach to the series in the rhythm/cooking mash-up: Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! As soon as you start the game up and see the intro movie, you can kind of tell that this game will have a big focus on fan service, probably even more than the previous games.
Set as a standalone story, separate from the continuity of the Senran Kagura series, Bon Appétit revolves around a special cooking tournament set up by Hanzo, where the contestants compete for a legendary Ninja Art Scroll which can supposedly grant any wish. With such a prize up for grabs, it’s no surprise that all of the ninja girls are all fired up to battle each other with their cooking skills. Considering the more serious tone of some of the previous games’ stories, this one is quite silly and laid back in comparison, allowing for some ridiculous events in story mode.
The main game consists of you playing as one of the girls and battling against various opponents through story mode, arcade mode or free mode. Each of these battles has you preparing a specific set of dishes, depending on the character your facing, set to a specific song for that battle. For example, when you’re battling Hibari, you’re both making sweets and cakes, while a battle with Yomi will have you preparing something utilizing her beloved bean sprouts. The rhythm game part of bon appétit comes into play when you’re in these battles, where you need to press the directional buttons and face buttons in time with the music and the markers on screen as they travel horizontally along the screen via two parallel lanes.
During each battle, your’re competing against your cpu opponent to prepare the best dishes, which are judged at 3 stages during the song. You can see how you’re doing against the cpu on the meter at the top of the screen and you’ll want to have your colour filling more of the meter than your opponent if you want to win the taste tests. The winner of each taste test gets a pass and the loser gets gets some of their clothes damaged in the process, as is Senran Kagura tradition. Interestingly enough, the first two taste tests are un-skippable, unlike the final one or even the similar battle damage sequences in previous games, so you’re going to see some ripped clothing whether you want to or not.
The way the game judges whether you pass or fail the song is a bit odd since only the 3rd stage seems to matter. You could be doing well throughout most of the song and win the first 2 stages, but if you mess up the last section all of that goes out the window, which can be a bit annoying on songs that suddenly get more difficult near the end. The opposite of this also seemed to be true, where I was able to pass a song just by winning the final taste test and failing the previous two. Personally, I would have preferred the game judge your performance based on the entire song rather than one section as unexpected difficulty spikes could ruin a player’s chance at success.
The 3 available difficulty modes (Easy, Normal & Hard) allow you to change difficulty, but once you start arcade or story mode for a character, you’re locked into that difficulty for all 5 songs and are unable to change difficulty without losing your progress. On some songs, even just normal mode can be surprisingly challenging, especially when they start throwing multiple combinations of face button and directions while you’re trying to keep track of both lanes for upcoming notes.
When you play well enough and keep your note combo going, you’ll build up a heart meter which when full, gives you a chance to get a full screen view of your opponent in the background, with any battle-damaged clothing they may have, which doesn’t really help you in any way and is just one of the many sprinklings of fan service in this game. Depending on how much you’d want to see this, it could actually be an unwanted distraction since you’d want to focus on the note markers at the bottom of the screen rather than any semi-clad characters in the background.
If you do really well and get a ‘perfect victory’ at the end of the game, you’ll then see a ‘dessert’ scene with the losing character, usually involving stuff like chocolate sauce and whipped cream. If you know what the Senran Kagura series is like, you can probably guess what to expect from these scenes, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it would be surprising if you’ve gotten that far into the game and couldn’t have expected something like that. The dressing room returns in Bon Appetit, so you can dress up your characters in all sorts of outfits and costumes. Any costume DLC that has been released for Shinovi Versus is cross compatible with this game as well, so that’s a bonus if you’ve already invested money into getting your girls looking exactly how you want in the other game.
With 11 characters, each with their own song for their battles, there’s some variety in different speeds and styles in the songs but there were few that I thought were memorable or that I’d be likely to listen to outside of the game as something other than background music. The vocal tracks seemed to be the better songs in the selection and it’s a shame the rest of the soundtrack couldn’t be up to the same standard. Each story mode and arcade mode playthrough spans 5 battles/songs, so you’ll quickly start to hear the same songs again and again, so it helps if the next song you’re playing is something enjoyable. The other half of the cast of characters are unavailable in the base game and will be playable via an additional DLC pack containing the Hebijo and Gessen characters, which will hopefully bring along some more interesting songs to play.