Basic Tilt-tilating Pinball Action.
Senran Kagura has been an ever growing franchise, one not content with sticking to a single genre. The series has strayed from its hack and slash roots often to have the cast of girls take part in a cook-off, water gun fights, card battles, to even a massage based dating game; the latter of which was sadly not the series’ finest hour. Peach Ball is the latest spin-off to see a small selection of girls break away from the clothes tearing, high action spectacle the series is known for, and to have them take part in some cheeky pinball antics.
The series is often at its best when the girls are caught in a bizarre situation and must stick with it until they arrive at a solution to get their lives back to normal. The different schools pack a variety of personalities among the cast, and it’s their bonds of friendship that always shines a light no matter how dark the world can get. One of Peach Ball’s most glaring issues, from my perspective, is that we are only given 5 girls from the several dozen that have been introduced over the series’ lifetime, and not even many of the fan favorites. While the game does feature Haruka as the host to the games’ events, Peach Ball only features Yumi, Asuka, Ryona, Murasaki, and Yomi to flesh out its playable roster, which for some reason, are the exact selection of girls that were featured in Reflexions, a game I found to be a complete waste of time. A few of my favorites; Katsuragi, and Hikage, sadly just didn’t make the cut. This was also one of the reasons why Reflexions felt so empty, and lacking in variety among its cast.
Peach Ball starts like most Senran Kagura games do, a wild and incomprehensible situation occurs that sees the five girls transformed into animals. While that may sound extreme, it is really just them dressed up in revealing furry outfits with the respective ears of their animals atop their head. This transformation is due to Haruka hiding a special substance in the bathroom of a local arcade she’s employed at. This substance, once it is exposed to the cast, causes the girls to transform and as it turns out, the only way to cure them is through vibrating a specialized ball, containing the cure. That said, it’s not long before you, the player, are lured into using this ball in a customized pinball table of Haruka’s design, because, as it turns out, she planned for the eventual moment that this would occur, because of course she did.
Much like Reflexions, Peach Ball feels like a very low-cost effort to bridge the gap before the release of Senran Kagura 7even, the next entry in the main series. While Reflexions is far more hollow of an experience than what Peach Ball offers here, this latest spin-off can feel very one and done before the day is through, especially for a title that is $20-30 shy of your typical full AAA price. Had Peach Ball been half the cost it currently is, then it would have felt priced accordingly given how shallow its contents feel.
Peach Ball features five campaigns that are driven by each of the ladies present, however; while the visual novel narrative varies from girl to girl, the gameplay presented to each of them is exactly the same. This is made more repetitive due to the fact there are only 2 different pinball tables included. While each of the tables do feature some fun elements to them, they sadly lack the chaotic energy of the series and don’t take full advantage of the games’ more wacky ideas. The only real Senran Kagura flavor injected into each table’s design is the fact the girl you’re trying to cure is font and center on the playing field. Sure, you do have some of the series’ revealing artwork placed here and there, but nothing about the tables scream Senran Kagura. Had the tables been themed about each of the games; a cooking table, a water gun table, or a ninja battle table, then maybe each environment would have been connected to the series in more meaningful and less generic ways.
Much like how the girl’s prized assets defy physics, so do the balls your bouncing around inside the table. The gameplay feels very floaty and the flippers just don’t feel terribly responsive, which is something that you do not want to ever happen in a pinball game. I’ve played several pinball games throughout the years, across several different platforms dating all the way back to Sonic Spinball, and probably even earlier than that, and Peach Ball just lacks the “feel” of a good pinball game like the more recent Pinball FX series. This is mainly due to the fact that Peach Ball doesn’t feature the comparable weight and physics of a real table. One aspect of the game I struggled with initially was that it was rather hard to even see the ball amongst the colored tones of each of the two tables. While this is somewhat fixed depending on the balls you buy from the shop, or as you earn them, several of them can almost disappear among the chaos.
To shake up the typical pinball formula, Peach Ball does do some interesting things that do work well. Peach missions, which are a series of objectives, do make you play strategically and are fun to pull off. These range from bopping the girl in a specific place, reaching a certain score, or guiding the ball into certain zones on the table. As you bop the girl enough times with the ball, the featured buxom beauty will drop to the ground and trigger what is called an After Break. This is your chance to bop her several more times for extra points. Once you’ve accumulated enough Peach Points, you’ll have to bop the girl one more time to take part in what the game calls sexy challenges. These are a series of mini-games that sadly all function exactly the same way. There is a target in the circle playing field that you must hit and earn points. When the round is over, that item will then interact with the girl as either a duck shooting her with water, or an sentient ice cream cone that melts between her cleavage; If only we all could be so lucky. Once you’ve maxed out your Peach Points for a third time, you’ll take part in one last mini-game. This last game is where you’ll use that magical pinball to cure them by either using the pinball’s given to predictably bop their rear, or bounce it off of their breasts, as they react to the ball hitting them over and over again, as seen in the picture below.
The tables have your traditional iconic pinball table staples, except for the plunger. While there is the initial pull of it at the start of the round, the ball is simply dropped onto the table anytime after that. This does cause the game to lose that kinetic feel of the pinball entering the field. As I mentioned previously, the flippers sadly do not feel good to use and don’t feel responsive enough to really maintain the feel of a real table. With there again only being two tables, you don’t get as much variety in the implementation of bumpers, ramps, slingshots, targets or holes, that you would expect. In fact, both tables share almost exactly the same layouts except for very minor details. Given again how the feel of the game doesn’t reflect real pinball, knowing how the ball will react to these parts is more predictable here than through a real game of pinball.
The Senran Kagura games have more or less maintained the same overall look in both their visuals, as well as the artwork placed within the series. Given the fan service basis for the games, it’s weird that the most static image, its loading screen, doesn’t feature the girls at all, and instead is an illustration of the girls as animal plush toys. Apart from that, the game is exactly what you expect visually from a game in the series; bright and colorful, and skin as far as the eye can see. I’ve been a fan of the series for quite some time, and it’s sad to see these games simply reuse assets over and over again and only give the girls the same 5 or 6 animations throughout the entire experience. While other games in the series are known for reusing many assets, Peach Ball here is just far more apparent due to how much is actually reused.
Given their inclusion is part of nearly every Senran Kagura game, you do have the dressing room, intimacy and diorama modes to use, but given these are simply just copy and pasted from previous efforts, they feel tacked on only because they can check off a list of features on the back of the case. For those new to the series, the dressing room allows you to dress the girls up in certain outfits, intimacy lets you grope the girls with floating hands, and the diorama mode lets you pose the girls how you see fit. These modes have been a staple of the series and have yet to see their inclusion grow or change at all. In fact, in the most recent PS4 version of Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, the Intimacy mode was removed entirely due to fear it would spark backlash, despite every other version on the platform still containing that very same mode. This censorship has also been reported to impact the development of the upcoming Seven, and even saw the creator of the series leave Marvelous games.
Going into Peach Ball, I half expected another game on the level of Peach Beach Splash; a fun cheeky narrative that utilized the cast in fun and interesting ways. Peach Ball is sadly not that game. While there is certain fun to be had here, the game just doesn’t justify it’s semi-high price tag with how hollow the experience can feel. If you were to take away the raunchy nature of Senran Kagura and judge the game solely on that of a pinball experience, then you really wouldn’t have a solid product here by any right. The game certainly attempts to use the series’ fan service roots in engaging ways, but it feels far more tame when compared to previous entries in the series. By offering up only two boards and the same five girls from Reflexions, it causes the title to be far more repetitive than it should be and prevents you from getting too pinball’s deep into its basic cleavage inducing offerings.
Senran Kagura: Peach Ball was purchased by the reviewer.
All Screenshots were taken on an Nintendo Switch.