Kia Ora, my five T@P readers! I spent the holidays in beautiful New Zealand, disconnected from all things internet. Prior to departure day, I thought it would be prudent to invest in a few titles on the Nintendo E-shop, so I might better pass the time on the many plane, train, and bus rides across the trip.

I decided it would be best to pick three wildly diverse genres, so I set up a list of criteria to dictate each purchasing decision. After far too many confirmation screens, the redundancy of which has been well documented on this site, I finally had three games.

The first game was something I’d be practically guaranteed to enjoy. Steamworld: Heist won this slot with no contest.

The second game was something that intrigued me, but lacked any media attention. An unknown, but alluring quantity. This slot went to Legend of Legacy.

The third was the wild card. A game that, under almost no circumstances, I would give a chance in a brick-and-mortar store. This slot went to Senran Kagura: Burst. Keep in mind that brick-and-mortar comment please, because it’s going to be important later.

Here’s a breakdown of my time with each game, complete with an arbitrary stack ranking of the three.

Steamworld: Heist

The reductive description: Two dimensional X-Com, set in derelict spaceships with steam powered mechanical automatons.

As fans of Steamworld: Dig may have already guessed, Steamworld: Heist comes from the same dev team, Image and Form, and takes place (presumably) in the same universe. However, fans of Steamworld: Dig would be shocked if they approached Heist expecting a similar experience.

Heist differs from Dig in just about every possible way. It’s turn based, has a world map, takes place in space, has customizable weapon loadouts, and a tremendous amount of hats. Soooo many hats. You get these hats by shooting them off enemies heads, then picking them up in the heat of combat. Others can be purchased at interstellar distributors of fine cranial apparel. All of these hats exist only to adorn your metallic dome. No stat bonuses apply.

As you progress in Heist, you’ll be able to hire additional crew members. Each character specializes in a unique set of skills, which determines what primary weapons they take into battle, and what abilities will be available. Some will have shotguns, pistols, maybe even grenade launchers. Abilities include simple things like getting to fire twice in a row without moving, or an increase to melee damage.

The real joy in Heist’s combat comes from the clever use of the two dimensional perspective. Since you can’t exactly saddle up sideways to flank an enemy, Heist requires you to ricochet shots to find openings. Every bullet can bounce off at least one surface (sometimes even more, depending on the weapon). Later in the game, enemies begin employing crazy defensive techniques, like guns with shields or plasma force fields, all of which force you to work harder to find opportunities to flank and bounce. In a game with ricocheting bullets and cover systems, sometimes the best way to hit an opponent right in front of you is to aim up.

While combat itself doesn’t change much as far as mechanics go, there’s still an excellent sense of progression and escalation. As characters level, they’ll learn new skills to expand your options in a mission. Occasionally the new skill will just be a passive upgrade, like increased health, but other times it’s a real game-changer of a technique. Take for example, Sally, who unlocks the “Kill Streak” ability. After killing an enemy, Sally can take another shot. Later, she’ll unlock another ability called “Mad Dog,” which allows this to happen infinitely during a single turn, meaning with the right shots Sally can scrap every enemy in her immediate vicinity.

Even though I went into Steamworld: Heist already expecting to like it, it still managed to surprise me with killer presentation. The first time a song started with lyrics in one of the many space dive bars, I checked my phone, thinking I’d left a song on by accident. Nope. The sick beat I heard was definitely coming from the game. The Band Steam Powered Giraffe scored the entire game and nailed it with some really solid, stand-out tracks.

Perhaps my favorite moment comes during the first major boss fight against Chop Sue. Once you land the final shot, this song kicks in, timed to start right as she crumbles into a pile of scrap.

Heist kept me endlessly entertained and challenged the entire trip.

The Fine Points.

  • Price: $16.99

  • Recommended to: Anyone who’s ever played a strategy game.

  • Rank out of three: #1. Yes, I started with the best first.

Legend of Legacy

The reductive description: Legend of Legacy is a traditional RPG for people who think the problem with most RPG’s is too many words.

What caught my eye about Legend of Legacy first was the insane pedigree of talented people behind it. Here’s a few notable employees on the production team and their former works:

  • Masato Kato - Writer, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.

  • Masashi Hamauzu - Composer, Final Fantasy XIII (a brief reminder: the music of Final Fantasy XIII is about the only thing I didn’t dunk on).

  • Kyoji Koizumi - Designer, Romancing SaGa, SaGa Frontier, many other SaGas.

  • Masataka Matsuura - Director, formerly of Level-5.

It’s a wonder then, how when the RPG dream team is assembled to produce the ultimate RPG, they manage to produce an experience as generic as the title.

The game starts with a character select screen. At first, I was hopeful this would be an experience similar to Sekien Densetsu 3 (A.K.A. Secret of Mana 3) where you select three party members out of six. Then, on a second playthrough, you can pick the other three to see how the other characters personal stories wrap up, seeing new aspects of the story you missed before.

Then I started Legend of Legacy, and discovered the game had virtually no story to speak of.

After making a selection, there’s a brief explanation of how your chosen character ends up on the island of Avalon. Two other random characters from the select screen are then slapped into your party, with the flimsiest of dialogue during a cart ride justifying their addition. After finishing the first explorable area, the other characters from the select screen will randomly populate the town. After a short conversation, they’ll join your party, too. You can only have a party of three, but you could have the rest of the cast hanging out in reserves if you so desire.

You may ask, as I did, if this RPG has no story, what’s it about? The answer, I think, is Cartography. Here’s the gameplay loop: Your party sets out into unknown territory, fills out a map as they travel, does a whole heap of killing wildlife, and then reports their findings to “The King of Adventurers.” Then you sell the completed map, make a fat stack of cash, and venture into a new area to do it again.

While mapping out a region, your party occasionally stumbles across secrets about the island’s history, which is the closest Legacy comes to telling a story. These moments are few in number and a chasm’s length in distance, typically occurring about every five areas. The bulk of the game is fighting, exploring, and more fighting, with story playing second fiddle. Not even second, really. More like fifth understudy fiddle.

Legacy’s greatest strength is a combat system that melds together a number of existing RPG ideas into something rewarding and challenging, albeit a bit tedious. Each round, characters pick a role. You’ll start with Attacker, Support, and Defender, but more appear further into the game. Unlike Final Fantasy XIII’s similar (and much worse) paradigm system, Legacy’s roles don’t lock your characters into a specific set of actions. Instead, they modify the existing ones based on the role. Using the defend option, for example, has your character raise their shield to block a fraction of damage during the turn. Selecting it while they’re in the “defender” role, however, will make the character leap in front of your other party members, taking hits for everyone.

Progression is reminiscent of Final Fantasy II (and I mean proper Final Fantasy II here, not the rebranded version of IV released on the SNES). In Final Fantasy II, characters didn't have levels. Instead, each stat leveled up individually, determined by what actions the player took, and what happened to them. The more a character got hit, the more health they got. The more they attacked with a particular weapon, the more damage they'd do with that weapon type in the future. In Legacy, characters level up roles and attacks individually in very much the same fashion, but Legacy goes well past anything sane. It takes a left turn into CrazyTown, making it so every attack within every role needs to be leveled up individually, too. This means the sword “slice” attack can be level 10 in attacker, but level 4 in support and 1 in defender.

Even crazier is the way new techniques are learned. Each time a character uses an action, there’s a chance “AWAKENED” will flash across the screen, and they’ll suddenly use a new move with the selected item. Every character has a different hidden affinity for each weapon, and the only way to figure out who’s good with what is experimentation. Tig, for example, is rubbish with a bow, meaning he can fire arrows all day, every day, and never learn a new skill. Meurs though, the one with a case of Cloud-hair pictured above, will learn a new bow technique every few attacks. The relative level of your opponents seems to have an effect on the RNG roll taking place behind the scenes, as I found characters learned new techniques most often during boss fights.

The combat progression, bizzarely complex leveling system, and cartography mapping makes for a semi-rewarding gameplay loop, but the lack of any narrative really stands out in the RPG genre. The overall goal, I suppose, is to map out every area - but I’ve no idea why I ought to do it, aside from a love of making maps. I play Legacy in short bursts still, but it doesn’t hold my attention for long periods of time.

When it comes to the next game however, the outlier, the wild card, it was… quite hard to miss. For two preposterously large reasons.

The Fine Points.

  • Price: $39.99

  • Recommended to: People who love RPG’s for the grind.

  • Rank: #3. Servicable, safe, and sadly unremarkable.

Senran Kagura: Burst

The reductive description: Tit Ninjas.

I want to take a minute to clear a few things up. Remember when I said to keep in mind the “brick-and-mortar store” comment earlier? Now’s the time to recall it, which is why I’m reminding you. Here’s the box art for Senran Kagura: Burst.

See that box art? Well, I didn’t. On the Nintendo E-shop screen, I saw screenshots of what looked like some old school, 2-D hack and slash brawler. I did notice one of the girls looked busty, but at the time, I had no reason to suspect cleavage would be the focus of the game’s attention.

Sure, I got that side scrolling brawler, but I got these watermelons painted to resemble boobs also.

Now I could condemn Senran Kagara, but honestly? This is on me. Me. Look at that box art. Had I seen it on the shelf of a Gamestop, I’d know right away what it had to offer. The box art could not be clearer about what the game really cares about. But, in my lack of research, i seem to have purchased a pervy anime brawler - on a Nintendo platform, no less.

That’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ to it. Now for a sentence I never thought I’d type: Let’s talk about boob ninjas.

Once I realized what I was playing, there were a few things I expected to happen, tropes I’ve come to expect from anything with anime sensibilities. I’d like to kick this off by talking about the annoying things Senran Kagura did not do.

  • The presence of a creepy, pervy mentor figure. In many animes, he’s the grandfather or martial arts teacher. He’s a horny old man who spends most of time trying to convince girls to get into compromising, embarrassing positions for his own enjoyment - and presumably the audiences - under the guise of “training”. This character does not exist in Senran Kagura, and I am thankful for it.

addendum: No sooner did I write this than a grandfather figure made an appearance and remarked on the size of an underage girls’ breasts. it was only one scene, thankfully, but I’ve always believed an exception disproves the rule. See you later, number 1.

  • A male character every female swoons over. This frustrates me endlessly in anime, the most recent offender being Sword Art Online.
  • A mascot with an annoying voice. A talking cat from another planet. Navi. A flub from flubtown who needs strong warriors to save flubworld. You know the ones.

Senran Kagura does not do any of these things, and it ought to be commended for it.

In the act of writing this article, I tried several times to begin talking about everything else this game offers. I tried to start talking about how it somehow made up for all the narrative Legacy lacked. I tried writing about how the combat is actually quite fun, but still has a large share of frustrations, mostly tied to poor enemy telegraphs and player feedback. I don’t think I can address any of those things without first herding elephants out of the room.

Yes, I did resist the urge to write another boob joke there. Much like the amount of cleavage in this game, it gets old quick. But, also like cleavage in this game, you’re still going to see way more of it than you might want to.

Elephant one - One of the major mechanics in Senran Kagura involves the removal of clothing during battle. This can happen voluntarily through a mechanic known as “frantic,” but it can also happen through battle damage. Complete and utter fabric destruction occurs, and when it does, the camera swoops around to show it off - and I mean all of it.

Elephant two - I like boobs. Controversial stance, I know, but hold on a sec, because I still have problems with the ones presented to me here.

While I like boobs, I’m not sure 3D anime boobs do much for me. If it’s your thing, no judgement here, but it ain’t mine. the bigger personal issue is the next one.

Elephant three - Context. Context is important. This next statement is a tremendous disservice to many women who may have entirely valid complaints about this game as a whole, so I apologize for this, but for now please try to remove any social and gender arguements you might have against Senran Kagura.

Let’s assume for a moment, I’m meant to enjoy these inflated balloons presented to me, masquerading as human mammary glands. I assume I am, given the way the camera lingers on the wardrobe obliteration taking place. Please draw your attention to Asuka’s face while this happening.

This is what I mean when I talk about context. Asuka is my character, my avatar in this world of buxom ninjas. Seeing her distressed as her clothing flies off distresses me. Any pleasure I’m supposed to get from these moments is negated by prolonged evidence of my failure and the pained expression on her face.

The same scenes play for the opposing Ninja team too, and it ends up seeing it happen to the other side doesn’t help much either. Ends up destroying women’s clothing just makes me feel guilt instead of arousal.

All this said, there are a few manufactured scenes designed to titillate that didn’t bother me as much as the structurally unsound clothing. Sometimes the game presents short stories to read prior to a new mission. (It’s at this point I’d normally ask what the hell short stories are doing in a game, especially ones this long, but for what they are, they’re shockingly competent, so we'll let 'em slide). The background images show an illustration of what’s taking place in the story and it doesn’t take long for a hot spring to become the setting during the Hebjo girls’ storyline. This is fan service I can understand. It’s a situation that forces all the characters to get undressed and have a good time... while also being topless, of course. It’s still pandery fan service, but at least no one has to stop at Macy’s to buy a new outfit later.

These fan servicey portraits I can understand, but I'd hesitate to call them "titlating," which I assume to be the intention. The size and shape of these things far exceeds anything normal, instead becoming a comical farce, a parody of breasts themselves. The “physics” in DOA games have a similar effect on me.

At this point, I think I’ve gotten all the boob talk out there. It’s out. I'm done. Judge if you will, but I gotta call it like I see it, and what I see are various sizes of assorted fruit, glued on some chests, and then painted with the facade of boobage.

Let’s talk about the game now, because there is actually gameplay here to support these things.

The actual gameplay of Senran Kagura: Burst ended up being way faster than I expected, and I was already anticipating something quick. Senran Kagura is all about slicing the crap out of everything on the screen. Some hits trigger a green flash, sending the whole pile of enemies into the air. Tapping the jump button allows you to follow the group into the air to continue the slicing, not unlike the aerial rave system from Marvel Vs. Capcom.

As you slash up groups of enemies, a green bar fills up under the life bar. This bar serves two functions: The first time it fills up, it allows you to activate your Shinobi Transformation. If you guessed this involves the character stripping down to their underwear in a sailor moon style performance while a new outfit materializes around them, all while the camera spends copious amounts of time on their ass, you’ve caught on to what this game is about.

Once in your shinobi outift, you now have access to super combos, the green bar now serving a similar function to fighting game super meters. These moves are done with a press of the L and X or L and Y buttons, and you’ll get to murder everyone on the screen much faster.

It’s also possible to forgo the whole “transformation” angle with the previously mentioned “frantic” mechanic. Pressing L and R at the start of a stage makes your ninja lady strip down to her skivvies. The game moves way faster, your character dishes out - and takes - more damage, and supers are available right away. It’s worth noting the frame rate takes a massive hit when going “frantic.” It’s playable, but oof. It gets ugly.

In the first three chapters, I actually had a great time with Senran Kagura. Stages sometimes take a little while, but there’s something fun and rewarding about smacking a whole pile of bodies around, slicing them about the screen. Once the Hebjo girls show up, boss fights happen, which makes for a nice change of pace from the usual kill factory.

Chapter four is where the game’s rougher elements - which are noticeable, but forgivable in early chapters - start making combat a frustrating mess. Senran Kagura likes to fill the screen with as many enemies as possible, which, when all the enemies move at a snail's pace, isn’t much of a problem. then the game starts introducing enemies with guns, enemies who drop from the sky, enemies who breathe fire, throw ninja stars, poison, teleport, and then mixes and matches all these options about. All of this executed better would make for great escalation in challenge, but these attacks come with no obvious telegraphs. Dealing with one projectile enemy isn’t a problem, but trying to spot bullets in a field of thirty bodies is a real challenge. Doing it while another four are breathing fire and three are dropping from the sky is neigh impossible.

A lack of enemy telegraphs is bad enough, but couple it with poor damage feedback and you've got yourself a real perfect storm of frustration. There’s no invincibility frames in Senran Kagura. It’s not uncommon to get hit by several attacks, back to back, and suddenly find yourself dead. I want to make it clear that when I say suddenly, I really mean it. Really, really mean it. when the hits pile up, the only indication you’ve taken damage is a sudden chunk of your life bar missing. It does flash red as you get low, in an effort to alert the player things are going poorly, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good when another twelve hits are coming your way in .02 seconds. Occasionally the bigger hits will send your character spiraling through the air like they've been tossed by Eli Manning, but enemies are still content to pile on the pressure before you touch the ground.

I don’t think every game needs invincibility frames to function, but if you’re going to fill the screen with thirty enemies at a time, it’d certainly give the player a chance to get things under control again before they die.

If it wasn’t for Senran Kagura’s story being way better than it had any right to be, I would’ve stopped playing around this chapter. As the story approached its conclusion though, it became compelling in a way that shocked me. Senran Kagura tackled complicated topics like nature versus nurture, abandonment, poverty, mental trauma, and the importance of human bonding. At the onset, Senran looked about as shallow as its box art, with characters talking in absolutes like “good vs. evil,” or being strangely obsessed with “training,” another trope I associate with anime.

As the game approaches the end, it begins to muddy the waters on these simple concepts. Characters on both sides become challenged on their long held beliefs. The game’s greatest success, I think, is the way it allows you to play through the opposition’s story as well, seeing the entire narrative from a different perspective. This new cast plays completely different in combat, so it feels like starting an entirely new game. This second storyline does a tremendous job humanizing the seemingly unrepentant lot of "evil shinobi", making them quite sympathetic figures.

Despite all my initial prejudices regarding this games skeezy mechanics and blatant fan service, I ended up enjoying my time with Senran Kagura: Burst. There is one more problem I’d like to address, however.

Remember why I bought these games in the first place? To kill time while traveling? Imagine discovering you’ve purchased a game where sexy 3D women fight until their clothes fly off. Imagine observing, for the first time, the camera sweeping about to show off maximum cleavage and upskirt panty shots. Now imagine you’re on a plane sitting next to an old lady, and you’ll be there for another fourteen hours.

How fast did you close your imaginary 3DS lid? Because I closed my real one so fast you can start calling me Barry Allen.

If this scenario didn’t trigger any social faux pas alarms, I worry for you. There are certain things I try to avoid in the company of strangers, and watching soft-core porn is absolutely one of those things.

The Fine Points.

  • Price: Retails for $29.99, purchased in eshop sale for $14.99.

  • Recommended to: Dynasty Warriors fans, anyone who’s ever enjoyed a beat-em-up side-scroller, or fans of 3D boobs. (If your interest is only the latter, I think it’s prudent to remind you you’re currently reading this article on the internet, which is basically a Star Trek replicator for every image in existence.)

  • Rank out of three: Senran secures the #2 spot.

Final Ranking

  1. Steamworld: Heist
  2. Senran Kagura: Burst
  3. Legend of Legacy

If only Legend of Legacy also had a subtitle, maybe it could've eeked out the highly coveted second spot.