In the annals of video game history there have been a great many iterations of the classic arcade game of pinball, whether traditional 'realistic' recreations of tables or fresh digital spins on the genre. Pokémon Pinball, for example, built on the foundation of Kirby’s Pinball Land and added an addictive ‘catch ‘em all’ mechanic. Sonic Spinball might have introduced some questionable 'floatiness' (how we’d love to see a remake by Christian Whitehead and co. with ‘proper’ Sonic physics!), but it created a memorable video game nonetheless. And more recently, Yoku's Island Express melded pinball and Metroidvania to fabulous effect.
Enter Senran Kagura: Peach Ball from Honey Parade Games, a spin-off of the Senran Kagura series which started out on 3DS. This game mashes classic pinball with young ladies who are partially transforming into animals. It’s an old chestnut - five bosomy girls interact with a body-changing concoction called Beastall in the arcade bathroom and begin transforming into sexy animals. Fortunately, a handy little ball known as the Peach Ball will restore their humanity if activated with the 'proper' vibrations. A plan is hatched to play pinball with the girls on top of the tables in order to achieve the requisite vibrations and unleash the restorative ‘mist’ contained within the Peach Ball.
If you’re invested in Senran Kagura lore, you might get more out of the narrative, but a series of incongruous, wholesome backstories will most certainly get in the way if you're here only for sexy pinball. Tales of rescuing impoverished children in the slums rub against Beastall-induced baby-talk, and it's all a bit scattershot. Holding ‘Y’ fast-forwards through the narrative to the tables, although unfortunately, the pinball part (you know, the game bit) is very lacklustre.
Story mode has you choose a girl and complete five scenarios (restoring each of the protagonists to their original form). The shoulder buttons control the flippers and you can ‘tilt’ the table using the right stick to shake the girl (who's on all fours at the top) into a different position. A menu permanently showing on the right of the screen highlights the different tasks and missions to complete but the two available tables simply don’t offer enough variety, relying on the girls themselves to spice up a distinctly average and unexciting pinball experience. The Spooky Shinobi Park table features unlockable mini games which transport you to a contained arena where you must shoot at various targets for points, but they too begin to pall after you’ve seen each game once.
Completing missions opens ‘Sexy Challenges’, entered by shooting the ball at the girl causing her to be sucked into a circus tent. The challenges again involve shooting targets, but once the countdown reaches zero an animation plays: a rubber ducky douses the girl in water, a dollop of ice cream will fall onto her chest or she’ll be shocked by some other surprise that sends her into a state of dazed repose.
After said ‘Sexy Challenge’, the girl is ejected onto the table and you’re able to shoot the ball at her for big points. Multiple times we managed to fire the ball just behind her hand where it would slowly and repeatedly bounce against her wrist for what seemed like an eternity, giving us ample time to consider the boringly predictable and simple physics of the game. Following two sexy challenges, a 'Super Sexy' third and final challenge involves shooting balls at a jiggly part of the girls’ anatomy before using the flippers directly on their bodies to finally release the mysterious 'mist' and restore her humanity. Of course, she returns confused, naked and embarrassed, covering her modesty with her hands.
You choose from two ball types - ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ - but we couldn’t discern any physics difference and it seems to only affect the HD rumble vibration which is uninspired. We cannot wait for Tetsuya Mizuguchi to bring Tetris Effect to Switch and show devs how to use those neat little motors properly.
The overall package has been put together with care and the art of the characters themselves is first rate, but it feels like Honey Parade has focused entirely on the girls, with pinball almost an afterthought. The game looks clean and colourful, and there’s energy to spare, but it's vapid and directionless. We felt like a dad roped in to a kid’s birthday party on a Saturday afternoon being hosted by a posse of inappropriately-attired entertainers; it looks fun from the outside, but we were bored senseless after fifteen minutes.
With all the colour and illustrations on the table, it can be a little tough to keep track of the ball and the camera isn’t very helpful. Hitting up or down on the D-buttons cycles though six view options, but none of them feel quite right. We settled on option B which framed the bottom of the table and followed the ball if it went to the top. The tables come with different backgrounds (Day/Evening/Night for the Peach Ball table and seasonal varieties for Spooky Shinobi Park) and you can also unlock illustrations. These options (selectable in Free mode) don’t impact the gameplay, though; the tables remain the same despite superficial changes.
That applies to the girls themselves – body-wise, they all seem identical, each having stuffed two billowing water balloons up her sweater. Yes, large-breasted women have a loyal and devoted fanbase, but variety's the spice of life, no? Heading into the Dressing Room you can change the girls’ costumes. ‘Intimacy’ mode enables you to interact with them (using motion controls, if you wish), stimulating them in various ways as they yelp, complain and/or encourage you. Two floating hands can touch and grab any part you choose to focus on. Imagine Mario’s face at the start of Super Mario 64 was a pair of breasts and you’re pretty much there – it’s as sexy as that sounds.
You can pick up new 'regular' in-game gear in the Shop using currency you accumulate through playing the tables (DLC from Nintendo eShop was unavailable at the time of review). Outfits, hairstyles, accessories, pics, music and balls are all yours to purchase.
The protagonists can be positioned or clothed in any way you chose in Diorama mode and you can go to town with your camera like Austin Powers. It’s completely customisable and we can genuinely say the most fun we had in this mode (and with the game in general) was blowing one of the girls up to 200% size, posing her coquettishly and positioning the camera so that the ‘steaming ear' angry emote looked like she was passing wind, to the disgust of the buxom lovelies surrounding her. That may speak more to our juvenile sense of humour than anything else but make of it what you will. It’s quite a feat that a game this colourful, this absurd, this jiggly can make you so drowsy.
The fact is we were bored - so very bored - and minor irritations were magnified. The game doesn't remember your four-letter scoreboard name, for example, so after inputting your name a couple of times, you'll quickly resort to filling the boards with endless 'AAAA's. In our boredom we began to think perhaps too deeply. Games which tease impropriety but ultimately reveal nothing feel arguably anachronistic in a time when anyone with a phone can look at hardcore pornography without paying a dime. Are we simply too jaded by the modern internet to find Peach Ball enticing? Would this perhaps be ‘better’ if we were younger or older or more enthusiastic about massively-endowed anime ladies with tails and paws?
The answer is that it really doesn’t matter; we can only comment on the game as we find it, and for a title as polished and supposedly ‘enticing’ as Peach Ball is, we found it desperately dull. It’s a great shame because we went into it looking for a bit of fun; we like pinball, and we’re not averse to attractive anime ladies, but fans of either are much better served elsewhere. To state that we'd rather play Yoku's Island Express is a given, but we’d also rather play Sonic Spinball, and that’s saying something.
We spent a long time mulling over why Senran Kagura: Peach Ball didn’t push any of our buttons. If you find anime ladies with animal features highly appealing, you can probably add a couple of points to the score below. Ultimately, though, Peach Ball serves up a tedious, repetitive story with monotonous characters and pinball tables that can be characterised likewise. Despite a polished art style and a genuinely interesting idea of livening up the arcade game in a way only possible in a video game, we found the end result sorely lacking in the pinball department.