Not too long ago, the team at WellPlayed posted our usual ‘Tight In The Jorts’ article outlining the games we were looking forward to for the month of July 2019. While writing up my contribution, referencing a list of upcoming releases as I usually do, I noticed a game that intrigued me enough to want to give it a go, but looked like exactly the kind of thing I’d be ashamed to pay real money for. The solution? Put my hand up to review it for the website. And so here we are. You, the reader, hoping to get an opinion on a pinball game full of near-naked anime women and me, the writer, wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake.
If you’re unfamiliar with Senran Kagura, and I’ll admit having only a passable knowledge of it prior to now, it’s a series of video games from Japan that started with a side-scrolling action game on the 3DS about a group of female ninjas. The series’ ninja action has since moved to a 3D format and branched out into a few spinoffs focusing on things like card battles and water guns, while still featuring the same core cast of characters. In case it wasn’t already clear from the images on this page, the most important thing to know about Senran Kagura is that it’s very naughty. These ninja ladies aren’t just scantily-clad, they’re downright debauched, even during the most innocuous activities. Activities such as pinball, which is exactly where we find the ninja women of Senran Kagura in this particular Nintendo Switch game.
I’m going to attempt to explain the story in Peach Ball as best I can, but boy is it a doozy. Ninja master Haruka has taken up a gig working in a local arcade, but spends her downtime brewing secret, transformative potions. When the other women visit to participate in a fighting game tournament, Ryona finds herself accidentally doused in a concoction called Beastall which turns her into a half-human, half-dog. That’s right, dear readers, we’re entering furry territory. The transformation quickly spreads to the others and soon enough Haruka devises a cure: pinball. Yes, the solution to all of this is coaxing the ‘animal’ women (who look less like the cover of an Animorphs book and more like the cover of a very niche skin mag) onto the arcade’s pinball tables and whacking them with special curative ‘Peach Balls’ until they turn back. Rad.
I’ve certainly heard that before
It’s quite clearly all very tongue-in-cheek, and that’s for the best. When you’re smacking balls into a half-bear woman’s heaving breasts before slapping her arse with the pinball flippers it really helps that it’s all very abstracted from reality. That’s not to say that parts of it didn’t regularly make me uncomfortable, and the experience will certainly vary depending on tastes, but I was genuinely surprised at how unobjectionable a lot of it is. There’s a decent amount of charm to be found in the situations and dialogue in the four-ish hour Story Mode, with the women of the Hebijo Academy sharing refreshing, platonically intimate friendships that I could almost believe don’t exist purely to inspire risqué situations.
When it comes to the actual act of playing pinball, there’s a surprisingly solid game here. Though it features a meagre two tables, Peach Land and Spooky Shinobu Park, both are well-laid out and full of interesting zones and gimmicks. While playing, a running series of mini-objectives called Peach Missions are featured on the side of the screen that encourage performing specific actions or hitting certain targets and high scores. I was shocked at just how much more compelling a game of pinball can be with these kinds of concurrent extra goals over and above just chasing a high score. In Story Mode, completing a chapter generally requires hitting particular score targets while also achieving sub-goals related to Peach Missions. The tables also happen to look pretty schmick in action too, sharp and full of energy and with huge servings of audiovisual stimuli beyond the obvious ones.
I wouldn’t consider myself an arcade connoisseur, but I’ve always found myself drawn to pinball both in real life and in video game form (shout out to Space Cadet 3D Pinball on Windows). I do know that physically bumping the table is a legitimate, if heavily policed, play. Peach Ball absolutely encourages it though, mapping it to either the analog sticks or a shake of the Joy-Con controller. Doing so can cause the character at the top to move around, thus letting you target different parts of her body to, y’know, ‘heal’ them. The ball physics themselves feel significantly more arcadey than a true 1:1 simulation, but that winds up being for the better and more in line with the fantastical and over-the-top tables. Honestly my only major gripe with the core pinball gameplay is the women themselves, or at least the way in which they’re presented. As much as the premise is all about ‘healing’ them, there’s no shaking the persistent feeling that they’re not willing participants in something that is intentionally and overtly sexually suggestive. Porn isn’t bad, but there’s bad porn, and this could definitely be better.
I only play it for the pinball, honest!
Outside of the main Story Mode, there’s a Free Play option to enjoy the tables at your leisure as well as a Shop to unlock new ball designs, clothing, music and more. Then there’s the Dressing Room, which (incidentally) lets you dress the girls up as well as pose them together in a diorama-style setting. If that last one sounds like a recipe for trouble, it is; anyone who spends any time there is definitely a pervert and I’m calling the cops. There is a nice amount of stuff to unlock overall though, which doesn’t quite make up for the brief story and anaemic table selection but it’ll certainly help for those inclined to put actual time into the game. There’s no multiplayer here either, so you’ll have to make do taking turns with your family and friends.
All in all, Senran Kagura Peach Ball is a surprisingly good pinball game wrapped in a package that will either be appealing, casually intriguing or downright off-putting. Those in the former camp could probably stand to part with their $60, although the return in content doesn’t quite add up. The latter two groups should be pretty safe to pass up on this for now, though.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher