The Senran Kagura franchise has worn many hats since its 2011 inception. Initially, a scintillating brawler for the 3DS, Marvelous' goofy series of anime cheesecake titles has since branched out into third-person shooters, card battlers, and even cooking games. Now, Senran Kagura: Peach Ball brings its unique brand of clothes-shredding comedy to the world of pinball, with mostly successful results.
Peach Ball's plot is as threadbare as it gets. Perpetually chill puppet-master Haruka has concocted a new serum that she's dubbed Beastall, which turns anyone it comes into contact with into a more animalistic form of themselves. She winds up leaving this serum in the bathroom of the arcade she works part-time at, which results in the lovably masochistic Ryona mistaking it for hand soap and turning into a dog-human hybrid.
Ryona then taps into her newfound puppy power by licking all of her friends, who are conveniently all in the arcade for a video game tournament. The girls are consequently turned into different beast forms of themselves - from cat-girls to dog-girls to, yes, even bear-girls. All the girls lean into their newfound animal roles a bit too hard, and it's up to you to fling fuzzy balls at them until they snap out of it and turn human again.
Just a normal Tuesday, really.
Play With Your Flippers
The bread and butter of Peach Ball is playing pinball. Through five short campaigns, players will be given access to two unique pinball tables with different variants. In the center of each table is a girl, who the player has to continually "bop" with a particularly fuzzy pinball. Once she's "bopped" enough times, players will jump into a special mini-game that allows them to shred off a bit of her clothing. After three of these mini-games, her clothes and animal ears will all fly off, and she'll be returned to normal.
On a mechanical level, this process is a fun one thanks to how much variety is present per table. By the end of my third campaign, I was still discovering new tricks and gimmicks on both boards, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the intricacy behind different score multipliers and table transformations. It doesn't hurt that the core gameplay feels really nice, as well. Each ball, themed after a certain girl, has a weighty feel to it, and there's satisfying chunkiness to the flippers. On the Switch, this is augmented by some wonderful 3D rumble support that capitalizes on the system's ability to deliver subtle, directional vibrations depending on the situation.
Off the table, players will spend their time reading a linear visual novel to advance the plot. Luckily, Peach Ball's writing is fairly top-notch across the board, with a whip-smart translation that leans heavily into the franchise's inherent goofiness to deliver big, bawdy laughs. While it's not going to win any Writer's Guild of America awards, the script does a great job of playing up the tropes of each character. Ryona, in particular, is handled well in this game - her signature masochistic tendencies taken to their logical extremes at every possible chance.
When it comes to both the gameplay and the writing, Senran Kagura: Peach Ball delivers on its promise of pinball with a late-night Cinemax twist, and does so with great aplomb.
Keeping It All On
This is why, from a content standpoint, the package is kind of a letdown. For how fun this game is, most will probably be left wanting a lot more from it. While the two tables are definitely robust and full of intricacies, the fact remains that players are limited to two pinball tables for about five hours of single-player content. By the end of that time, most people will likely have settled into a comfortable rhythm for how to approach each board. This means that, as far as pinball titles go, Peach Ball has far less on offer than many of its contemporaries.
That sentiment applies to other entries in the franchise, as well. Outside of unlockable illustrations, a free play mode, and different costume components for the girls, there's really not a lot to do beyond the core pinball experience. There is the series staple "look at a girl and poke her with virtual hands" mini-game, but there's really not a whole lot of depth there. The result of this is that once I was done with the core campaigns, there really wasn't much incentive for me to continue playing.
Of course, it's worth noting that, at forty dollars, Peach Ball is on the high end of "budget game" territory - in the same pricing ballpark as "gems" like Nickelodeon Kart Racers. In that price range, this game is certainly head-and-shoulders above much of its competition in terms of mechanical satisfaction, production values, and writing quality. However, while I definitely air on the side "quality versus quantity" in terms of content, I couldn't help but wish Peach Ball had as much to do as past games.
Strutting Its Stuff
Despite an overall lack of content, Senran Kagura: Peach Ball comes with a reserved recommendation. For franchise diehards, the fan service, writing, and unique gameplay will be more than enough to justify the sticker price. For pinball enthusiasts, the mechanics here are truly engaging and worth giving a shot for people not put off by the, er... audacity of the franchise, shall we say? For everyone else, this game will have limited appeal, and the lack of content will definitely stand out a lot more.
Still, if you know what you're getting into, Senran Kagura: Peach Ball is a fun and funny celebration of silly raunch with strong mechanics to back it up. Hopefully, a sequel can deliver even more of this novel premise.
3.5 Out Of 5 Stars
A copy of Senran Kagura: Peach Ball was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC.