Using sex appeal to sell games is nothing new in the industry, even to the point where the games can become questionable in their intention; SENRAN KAGURA 2: Deep Crimson falls into this category. Its predecessor was a solid enough fighting game with themes that, shall we say, appeal to a particular demographic. Can the sequel improve upon the original?
As before, Deep Crimson mixes together 3D combat with story sequences told out via cutscenes which are frequent and long, but generally nicely presented - particularly the introduction sequence which takes advantage of full-motion video to breathe real life into the characters and the world they inhabit. In-game graphics are similarly well-rendered, some of which may be to a fault, but we'll get on to that later. The only exception to this are the drastically uninspired levels you fight in, which are stereotypical and lacking in flair; they're not even particularly nice to look at, often being copied and pasted over and over again to increase the length of a level. When there's a lot going on at once the frame rate does tend to drop, but on the whole this is a smoother experience than the first 3DS offering.
The gameplay functions like a fairly down-to-earth hack and slash or beat-em-up, with enclosed areas full of enemies that need to be defeated before progress can be made. This is the bread and butter of the gameplay, and unfortunately as solid and responsive as it is, it's rather repetitive. There are various combos and different moves that you can execute, but the standard string of moves you perform from rapidly hitting the quick attack button are more than sufficient to clear out a room nine times out of ten. You can charge up and unleash special attacks as well, but they feel wasted on such weak foes.
Thankfully the gameplay shifts up a gear once you reach the first main fight and the difficulty spikes. This may be a bit of a shock for some people, and you'll likely die several times before snatching victory. When you die, however, you're sent right back to the start of that level, meaning you once again have to fight through hordes of enemies before having another chance. There's nothing inherently wrong with this as a design choice, but it does become frustrating after a while.
These battles are the only time when the special moves are really worth using, and should you neglect to make the most of them you can quickly be punished, likewise should you time a dodge poorly or put yourself in the wrong position for too long. This is where the game is strongest, and there are fleeting glimpses of a stronger, nay great fighting game trying to come through. These glimpses are soon eclipsed by the drastically simple AI which, although competent in catching you off guard, is easily outwitted once you see their pattern of attack a few times. It's such a shame as the gameplay in these boss fights is so close to being really good, but is hampered by a lack of polish.
At certain points you'll be paired up with another character in a tag team that you can switch between at will by pressing the A button. When not selected the other character is controlled by the AI which is as basic as what you've encountered when fighting other named characters, only this time they're even more limited so as not to make mincemeat of the opponents. The opponents don't seem to increase their challenge or health to balance the two-on-one situations, but if your partner should die it's game over. This make a nice change but it doesn't really do much to aid the gameplay other than give the game an excuse to load in twice as many enemies.
This feature also stretches to co-op multiplayer through local wireless and over the internet. It's nice to have a competent partner fighting alongside you; there's no real way to communicate properly, but that's not really an issue when you're simply slapping seven shades out of a group of foes. It's a shame you can't fight each other online in typical fighting game style, but it's nice to see some multiplayer nonetheless.
Yes, there's an enormous elephant in the room that we've not fully addressed yet, and if you happen to be of a sensitive disposition you'll probably do yourself a favour by simply skipping to the conclusion if you haven't already. The game is filled to the brim with overtly sexual themes, and we feel that these elements are what received the most attention from the development team, causing the rest of the experience to miss out on its full potential. Instead of occasional spurts of blood or perhaps showing some sort of cosmetic damage to your character when you lose health, their clothing is torn away, revealing everything that isn't covered up by skimpy underwear. The animation and modelling is undeniably well done for the 3DS, but by the same token we were left feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the amount of focus this aspect of the game was getting - for example, defeated characters can be ogled at using the 3DS console's motion sensor, which just seems wrong. Having said that, this is clearly what the game is designed for, and so from a purely objective perspective it's impressive - on a more subjective note it all feels rather seedy and a little perverted.
The relentless obsession with including as much content surrounding this theme as possible also leads to some crushingly cringe-worthy dialogue. The majority of it is absolutely fine, but when tracking down a group of foes we don't really want to hear one of the main characters command "Point me in the direction of their boobs!". The entire game feels like a 13-year-old boy's fantasy and for having such adult themes is ironically childish in many instances. It would be easy to knock the series for its portrayal of its characters and arguably unnecessary fixation on their assets, but the entire purpose of this game is to do just that, for better of for worse, so in the interest of being as neutral as possible we've decided to score the game by the gameplay alone.
SENRAN KAGURA 2: Deep Crimson is a reasonably solid fighting game with some decent presentation and consistent performance in 2D, but is hampered by repetitive enemies and uninspired combat mechanics for the most part. It's not easy to recommend for these reasons, but if you happen to be looking for some mindless enemy mowing action interspersed with occasional challenge from boss fights, you could do worse. If you want it, try and pick it up on the cheap.