Sex sells. From perfume and cars, to clothes and food, provocative advertisements are everywhere - and sometimes, it crosses over into games too. In Japan, risque moments are so common in certain games they even have a special name for it - 'fan service' - which covers everything from hot spring scenes with barely clothed characters, to downloadable barely-there bikinis.
But while some games may feature a little bit of fan service as a bit of an aside, other games exist purely to deliver it - and the big-boobed dungeon crawling punishment sim Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors falls thoroughly in the latter camp.
For those who haven't played the original Criminal Girls game, the set up here has been designed to maximise the potential for risqué encounters. Set in a world with a very weird take on justice, in the land of Criminal Girls, any potential ne'er-do-wells are plucked out of society, isolated and sent straight to hell before they even have a chance to commit their crimes. Known as delinquents, these would be criminals only have one way to make it back into society, and that's if they can climb to the top of a huge tower known as the Hell Spire - a task so gruelling, and so punishing, it's hoped it'll put them back on the straight and narrow when they return to their normal life.
You get to play as the instructor on this program, a lucky man who just happens to be the only guy around, with a team of seven wayward anime women at his command. Charged with keeping them on the straight and narrow, it falls to you to oversee their transformation from bad girl to good girl - and give them a bit of "encouragement" should they stray from the right path.
Essentially a dungeon crawler, the bulk of your time in Criminal Girls 2 will be spent trawling through the game's maze-like dungeons, battling your way past umpteen enemies in an effort to reach the top of the Hell Spire - but this is more than simply a case of getting from A to B. Along with breaking up any infighting, bickering and rivalries that break out between the girls, you'll find yourself having to take on the many tricks hell has up it's sleeve, from simple switch puzzles, to mysterious teleporting rooms (which make navigating to the next floor a real pain), and one too many sections which split your party in two, forcing you to fight with your B-team instead. Along with the lucrative treasure chest that each floor hides, it's these little additions that make what should be a simple jaunt from one end of each floor to the next a little more interesting, even if the aforementioned teleporting level had us tearing our hair out at times.
At random intervals during your journey through hell, you'll be dragged into one of Criminal Girls 2's turn-based battles, which, like most turn based battles, see you and your enemies trading blows with swords, spells and items - although how you pick which attacks to use is a little more unusual than in other role playing games.
At the start of each turn, your party of four will propose a selection of bog-standard attacks, special moves and spells that they'd like to do, which have been drawn, somewhat randomly, from their list of moves. As the instructor, it's your job to make all the strategic decisions, and so it falls to you to pick the best attacks of the bunch for a given situation - although given the fact you can only choose from the four moves the girls have suggested, out of a potential list of dozens of moves, it can feel a bit limited and random at times.
Generally speaking, the selection does seem to be weighted based on what's going on in your party at that moment in time, with healing commands popping up when folks are injured, or guard commands being more likely when a boss is gearing up for a powerful attack - but sometimes, luck just isn't on your side. When your sole remaining character's revive spell doesn't pop up when you need it to, it can be more than a little bit frustrating.
Perhaps what Criminal Girls is most (in)famous for, though, is its 'motivation' sections. You see, each of your convict ladies requires a bit of persuasion to take part in battle; persuasion that takes the form of a number of risque mini-game sections. Regular spankings, scrubbings and electrocutings are key to teaching your troupe of ladies new moves and attacks in battle, for reasons that basically amount to the fact that they're latent criminals, and anything goes in hell.
Trussed up in compromising positions (but not too much mind - some of the bondage has been deemed too much for Western audiences to handle, as 50 Shades of Grey was already enough to blow our feeble minds), it falls to you to tap, swipe and flick your finger across the Touch Screen to administer the punishment of your choice - and depending on how well you do within the time limit, you'll inch closer to unlocking a new option in battle.
Scrubby Scrub, the first motivational punishment you unlock, sees you scrubbing the sins off your subordinates with a broom - as soapy clouds pop up all over your Vita's screen, you'll need to brush them away in the indicated direction, as fast as you can. Spanking X sees you tapping the markers that pop up to whip the lady in question into submission, while Slimeshot has you flicking suspicious blobs of blue-white goo at the icons that appear, covering the girl in question in a layer of gloopy slime that's definitely not supposed to represent anything untoward at all - and the fact they were able to change the colour in Japan to make it look white is totally coincidental, we're sure...
It may be a bit strange, but it's all in good fun, and the ladies never seem to really mind all that much (seemingly, it's at least fairly consensual). More diverse punishments unlock as you play, generally after you've beaten a formidable boss at the end of each five-floor 'section' of hell, with each motivation session costing a certain amount of CM, the game's currency, to carry out, and prices rising the more you administer.
Every completed motivational scene rewards you with a number of experience points - although even if you get a perfect score, you'll likely have to repeat each punishment a couple of times before you can max out the bar and unlock a new move for battle. Now with branching move sets, you'll have a choice of two different moves you can unlock each time, with each corresponding to a more Sadistic or Masochistic (known as S and M in game) personality. Girls start out leaning one way or the other, but depending on the move selection you teach them, can sway over to the other side - although their allegiances only really matter if you want to use the 'Coach' option mid-battle. This optional tactical command lets you power up certain characters depending on their S/M orientation and personality, but we never really got much use out of it, as our party of choice was too contradictory - as half got buffed up, and the others had their stats decreased, it never seemed worth it.
Putting the motivational scenes aside for a moment, though (as they clearly won't be to everyone's taste), the main issue with Criminal Girls 2 is one of difficulty. The original Criminal Girls was pretty challenging in and of itself, but the sequel seems even worse for the overpowered bosses it throws your way, with one hit kills and annoying status effects all over the place. When combined with a somewhat random battle system, it doesn't take too long before it all begins to grate - which is a bit of a shame.
While you can tone the game's difficulty down to Casual if you want a slightly more enjoyable time, you'll still find yourself having to spend an ungodly amount of time grinding to try and make your characters tough enough to beat certain bosses (the Evil Play at the end of Bloody Hell springs to mind) - even if you are facing off against enemies who'll do substantially less damage.
However, the characters here are generally well-written, and while the overall story itself isn't really much to write home about, Criminal Girls 2 is much more about the journey than the destination. From their rocky start full of bitter rivalries, you'll witness the girls slowly warming to each other, and turning into a lovable, if dysfunctional team, with surprisingly light-hearted banter for a bunch of ladies stranded in hell who are being punished to perform better in battle.
From the ditzy, and rather chesty Yurine, to the calm and calculated Sui, and the self-conscious, praise-hungry Mizuki, there's a myriad of personalities at play, with the arguments between the aloof, privileged Lily and 'teacher's pet' Shinoa getting a lot of air time in the game's opening hours - they'll even call on you to help settle disagreements at times, via occasional conversation options.
If you can look past it's nubile anime female exterior, Criminal Girls is a pretty solid dungeon crawler, full of witty dialogue and entertaining characters. Sadly, difficulty spikes and an over reliance on grinding mar the whole experience a little, and while the Casual difficulty is much more friendly, it's still not perfect. For fans of dungeon crawlers and Japanese randomness, Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors is a pretty solid investment, provided you're not offended by a bit of whip and tickle.
Format Reviewed: PS Vita