Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A group of teenage girls shows up for an arcade tournament, only to be accidentally doused with a potion that turns them into animals. And when I say “animals” what I of course mean is that they’re wearing fur outfits that would not look out of place at a Playboy shoot if the Playboy shoot’s costuming principle was, “Hmm, no, tackier.” But there is a solution to save these sexy animal girls—you get them into a pinball machine and strike their bodies with a pinball until they collapse from apparent ecstasy and change back.
It’s a tale as old as time.
So, Japan, then! Peach Ball is my first encounter with the characters of the Senran Kagura universe, which started as a side-scrolling 3DS game and has now evolved into anime, manga, several timelines, and finally, ultimately, as a game where, as I believe I mentioned, you must strike half-dressed teenage girls with pinballs.
How, then, are we to judge this game?
Peach Ball features two modes of play. The first is “story” which is presumably designed for those who know the series because man does it take a long time to get to the pinball simulator. Each girl gets her own chapter that’s made up of stages with long passages of visual-novel-style screens of dialogue where they talk to each other about their previous adventures and friendships, and also how cute baby-talk is, especially when combined with talking like a half-dressed animal girl (HDAG). I am not joking.
After these incomprehensible interludes, you finally get to the pinball. Your HDAG appears at the top section of the pinball field, usually on all fours. Your job? Sling those pinballs at her. Having completed the level (I’ll get to the gameplay next), the pinball machine releases an antidote to the potion that turned her into an animal. She then reverts to a teenage girl who is completely nude (though she covers herself).
This goes on for five stages. Eventually, all the girls are freed and then they tie up the woman who made the potion and you get to shoot pinballs at her body over the end credits.
Sidebar: You know that scene at the end of Ratatouille, where the critic Anton Ego is writing his review and contemplating where his life went wrong? That just popped into my head for some reason. Well!
On a story level, the game is incomprehensible if you don’t know the characters. They refer to previous adventures such as entertaining children in slums and (equally important to character development) shopping for stuffed animals at a mall. But to call the characters as presented in this game one-dimensional would be an insult to the noble one-dimensional object, the Point.
So, Peach Ball does not succeed as a storytelling challenger to The Remains of Edith Finch or even Golden Tee. How’s the gameplay?
Not great. There are only two pinball levels and they’re both kind of lame. “Peach Land” is the more entertaining one, as it has multiple loops and a third flipper. The second one, Spooky Shinobi Park, has two large ramps that circle the back and not much else. The game also lacks a Tilt function (tapping the analog stick shakes the girl but doesn’t alter the path of the ball), and Peach Ball is extremely generous with pinball returns if you happen to drain.
Good news, though. Despite being badly designed, gameplay is also extremely confusing. There are a lot of “missions” to complete which are presented on the side of the screen in very tiny text and also as pop-up screens that pause the game to explain which incompressible goal you’re supposed to be pursuing. Meanwhile, as I previously mentioned, there’s a mostly-nude anime girl flopping around at the top of the screen who either begs you to strike her with the pinball more or to stop. But unless you decide to put the game down and walk into a sunlit place, contemplating the decisions that brought you to writing this review, Bill, you must continue to accumulate “peach points” so that you can wear her down and enter THE SEXY CHALLENGE mini-games which typically involve whacking as many objects as you can in a limited amount of time while a giant version of the particular girl hovers over you. If you get to a third SEXY CHALLENGE you enter the SUPER SEXY CHALLENGE where you get to directly assault the girl’s breasts and butt with a barrage of pinballs. Go ahead and re-read that, I’ll wait.
There are only two problems with the SEXY CHALLENGES. They’re not sexy (unless you find an angry ice-cream cone or firecracker landing in cleavage sexy) and they’re not challenges because simply by mashing the flippers you’re going to succeed. But other than that, they’re the pinnacle of gaming.
The most interesting way to play Peach Ball as a pinball game is to switch the camera mode so that it follows the pinball rather than as a static, overhead shot, which at least gives the game a little energy. Otherwise, the dull level design makes for dull play.
So, I’ve described a game where anime girls are transformed from one type of fetish object into another type of fetish object, and yet you want more? Okay!
I know everyone was concerned that there wouldn’t be an extras mode where you can unlock and purchase additional outfits for the characters. And that these outfits wouldn’t include swimwear and tight-fitting schoolgirl outfits. And that these outfits wouldn’t be “tearable,” so that as the game progresses it wears away and you can see the lingerie they’re wearing underneath.
Good news. There is, and they are!
Yes, you can go into the shop and unlock different level variations (though not different levels), photos, and outfits, including a plethora of outfits, variations on lingerie, hats, and even switch the animal types and hairstyles among the girls just in case you were worried that they might not have any individuality at all.
But wait, there’s more. Peach Ball also features an “intimacy” mode where, after dressing the character up, you can stroke and grope her using the Joy-Con, and also spray her with water. This fills up her heart meter.
This. Fills up. Her. Heart. Meter.
Look, I’m no prude. I loves me some sleaze, provided it’s well-made sleaze. But Senran Kagura Peach Ball fails on every conceivable level. The characters are indistinguishable, the story feels like what I imagine licking a light socket must do to your brain, and the supposedly erotic moments are all based around hitting someone with a pinball. On top of that, the pinball game isn’t much fun to play.