I’ll be the first to admit my unfamiliarity with the Senran Kagura series of games. I was first introduced to them a few years back during a press preview session in San Francisco. This was yet another reminder that not everyone who plays video games shares the same interests and/or tastes. As I stood back and watched the gratuitous display of scantily clad, overly-sexualized women on screen, I wondered, “Would I ever play anything like this?” Fast-forward to 2019 and I’ve played through the story missions in Senran Kagura Peach Ball more than a few times.
You uncultured swine!
This wouldn’t be a traditional Senran Kagura title if it didn’t feature a cast of busty female anime protagonists. Of course, this is a very surface-level observation of the happenings within the series since its release. If you are unfamiliar with the franchise, a quick trip down the rabbit hole reveals the nuances of the ecchi in animation, a culture many would immediately assume to be nothing more than hentai or porn.
The series has managed to procure a following and continues to deliver heavy doses of fan service to those who choose to play each story featuring Asuka, Yumi, Ryona, and the rest of the female heroine cast.
In Senran Kagura Peach Ball, you as the player are called upon to assist in transforming members of the Senran Kagura crew back to human form. I don’t want to spoil this to fans who are looking forward to each costume change; however, there is a nice mix of common, wild, and even mythical animals as each girl takes form. This isn’t just in appearance. Time is of the essence as each starts to lose memories of their old self and events from their past. This is made aware in the quirky, humorous, and often raunchy dialogue.
So, how do you go about changing each of these half-animal, half-people back into their former selves? With pinball, of course! After each character is confronted and lured back to the Peach pinball machine, you must then use your skills in the pinball arts in order to bring them back to their former self.
During the initial moments of the game, you are lightly introduced to many of the mechanics and abilities that you will be confronted with throughout your journey, which is actually one of my biggest complaints. There’s a lot thrown at you right from the get-go. Fever Time (score multiplier), Hustle Time (bonus balls), and Peach Points (earned from objectives) immediately come into play. This doesn’t include the intricacies of each table, let alone the bonuses that you can enact within them.
I honestly didn’t feel comfortable in my abilities until my second playthrough. By that time, I had at least a single run under my belt and knew what to look for on each table with each girl. So much so that I really did feel like a pinball wizard, racking up S-rankings for bonus levels and knocking down objectives like dominoes. Browsing the tutorial on the pause screen walks through each of these line items, clearing the air for most questions you might have. As you play, even more content is introduced. This was a positive thing in my eyes, adding more to the sometimes simplistic designs of each table.
Par for the course
Although the beginning of the game might seem like you need a doctorate in rocket math, the rest of the game is treated much like other digital pinball titles. You have the ability to shake the table (done with the thumbsticks or Joy-Con), something you can do in a real-life table. This also becomes helpful in ball maneuverability as there is a multitude of challenges that require you to strike them with accuracy.
Getting a high score isn’t everything. For example, on the Shinobi Park stage, you can unlock a mini-game below the main table for bonus items. Although there is usually a score goal, that’s usually one of many objectives to complete. Defeating fairies as they appear on the board, hitting bonus structures, and juggling your ball on the bumpers are just some of the others. But these pale in comparison to the times when you must “Bop” each character as they lay sprawled atop the table.
The premise of the game is to provide your pinball vibrations in order to change each character back into complete human form. During a level, you can Bop a girl with the ball, even moving her to lay in different positions on the table when you’ve struck her enough. When a “‘Peach Mission” — aka objective — is complete, you’ll earn Peach Points. Accumulating enough of these will bring up the Sexy Challenge, a bonus game to earn additional points.
Each of the levels is composed of three Sexy Challenges. There are two standard challenges and one Super Sexy Challenge. This often ends with your buxom anime babe getting drenched in water, splattered with ice cream, and other over-the-top endings. Of course, when you’ve managed to rack up enough points and complete the mission, the animal attire falls away, revealing a nude Asuka, Murasaki, Ryona, Yomi, or Yumi.
The story might be as skimpy as the attire each character wears, but it still has drawn me in to play through multiple times. With each playthrough also comes new dialogue and unlockables. You also earn currency after each playthrough to spend on the laundry purchasable items.
Assumptions can do a lot to deter you from trying something for the first time. In this case, what I assumed to be a sexualized romp in anime porn was simply a reduction of what the franchise and its characters stand for. Although that is very much the essence of Senran Kagura, there is actually a really decent pinball game buried under the breasts, butts, and of course—balls.
Senran Kagura Peach Ball might not be for the pedestrian gamer. It, however, provides a service to fans that have been following the series through its releases.
I can understand the attraction to each of the characters, their quirks, and sexual nature. I know this as I’ve been sucked into the diorama editor, posing Yumi in all the different outfits I’ve unlocked.
Senran Kagura Peach Ball has earned every bit of its Mature rating, and I’m honestly surprised that it made its way to a Nintendo platform, let alone the Nintendo Switch. Fans of the series will no doubt have trouble keeping their eyes locked on their pinballs while still feverishly fondling their flippers. And to anyone else curious, you might find yourself as surprised as I was. I guess, after all, this game does have a happy ending.
A review code was provided by the publisher.