I don't think I've ever played a game that embarrassed me before. I've definitely never played a game that was good enough to keep me playing despite crippling embarrassment. But that's exactly what Shinovi Versus is.
An Anime-Worthy Story
I'm a bit surprised by this one, but Shinovi Versus boasts an engaging, surprisingly well-written story. It was easy for me to write this one off as a fanservice title with little to no substance, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The story has you following one of four all-female ninja schools and the individual stories of the students within.
The stories of each school all tie in together really well and are interesting enough to keep you engaged. The characters, while mostly stereotypical, are fleshed out enough to keep you interested while playing through their stories. Apparently, I'm not the only one that thinks Senran Kagura would make an interesting anime, as it made its debut last year.
Shiovi Versus is an extremely competent action game. It's not quite as extreme as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but characters move fast, fly high, and kick ass. Each character has three forms they can use: their normal student form, their shinobi form and their frantic form, each more revealing than the last.
Each form levels up individually, and knowing when to use them makes the game infinitely easier, though it isn't all that hard to begin with. As you level up, you'll automatically unlock new techniques and combos.
Each level throws as many enemies at you as the Vita can handle without a frame rate dip of any kind. As you attack and receive damage, you'll fill your technique meter. As the meter fills you'll be granted a scroll which can be used for either a transformation or a ninja art. Each character has two ninja arts and can transform once per battle. The ninja arts themselves seem a bit overpowered against bosses, but the real fun lies in using them to wipe out hordes of underlings.
It's easy to get swept up in the action playing Shinovi Versus; combos are quick and deadly, and it's easy to get your combos into the thousands of hits without taking any damage. It's exactly what playing as a ninja should feel like.
What would a fan service game be without character customization, after all? I expected the typical faire here, revealing outfits, lingerie and maybe a few unlockable baubles, but boy was I wrong. Shinovi Versus' customization is fairly standard in most respects, but it's the accessories that really make the character customization most in my mind.
There's a respectable number of unlockable outfits—characters can all wear each other's school uniforms, shinobi outfits and (sigh) lingerie—you can purchase these outfits through the in-game store. You can also use in-game currency (or real money, if you're insane) to play the lingerie lottery if that's your thing.
Accessories are pretty cool in that you can modify their default placement to any part of the body as well as mess with their size and angle to create truly unique outfits. It's a way deeper system than I expected.
Amount of Content
Between the game's four schools, individual story scenarios per character and extensive amount of unlockables, Shinovi Versus is absolutely packed with things to do. It's a major time sink in the way a portable game should be.
Shinovi Versus includes a full-featured online/local wireless multiplayer mode you can access in the dojo. Multiplayer fights consist of three modes: Deathmatch, Strip Battle — I think I don't need to explain what that means— and Understorm, a panty collecting minigame. Think Smash Bros.' coin battle, just replace the coins with panties and you're right on the mark.
The modes are fun, and games are lag free, but characters seem imbalanced to fight against each other fairly. Some characters' techniques lend themselves far better to multiplayer battle than others. If you can find some friends willing to play this mode with you, however, there's a lot of fun to be had. I would've liked to see co-op play more, but this is still a good mode.
There's fan service, and there's Senran Kagura. It should come as no surprise, given past quotes by series designer Kenichiro Takaki, but this game is pretty much all about boobs.
Even after several iterations, it's clear who this game is aimed at, and it's deeply embarrassing to play this game if you're not part of their core demographic. There's sexual imagery crammed in at every opportunity. Combat with boss characters centers around removing as much of their clothing as possible.
I get that this is what the game was designed to be. I get that there's a market for it, but it distracts so much from an otherwise amazing game. I wish they could at least tone it down a bit. At least then I could unabashedly show the game to my friends.
Of all the enemies you face in Shinovi Versus, the camera is the strongest, most persistent foe. All too often the camera will get hung up on a corner, or completely obstruct your view of entire packs of enemies. Nearly every time my combo string was broken, it was due to an enemy that was off screen leaping into view and hitting me. The camera leaves Shinovi Versus feeling like one of 2014's best action game engines, with a camera system from 2002.
Beneath all the gratuitous T&A, suggestive shots and cleverly-worded perversion, there's an excellent game. If you can get past all that, you're going to find an engaging story on top of an utterly satisfying and addictive action title.
And well, if you like that kind of stuff, Shinovi Versus is reason enough for you to go and buy a Vita right now.