Senran Kagura has always been about cute, well-endowed anime girls kicking butt and taking names for the honor and glory of their shinobi schools. Initially introduced to the world as a story-driven combo-based brawler where battle damage is depicted as a provocative loss of clothing, every once in a while a new game takes a hard left turn. Senran Kagura Bon Appetit was a silly, rhythm-based cooking competition a la Iron Chef. In Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash, the characters traded in their katanas and shurikens for flashy bikinis and high powered water guns. I’ve taught myself not to be surprised with whatever direction the franchise takes but even I wasn’t prepared for Senran Kagura to take on pinball. What’s really crazy is just how well Marvelous! and Honey Parade Games adapted the most noteworthy elements of this infamously sexy series to the pinball table.
You don’t really have to know much about the world of Senran Kagura to get into Peach Ball. Granted, those who can name all of the mascot characters from each shinobi school are probably going to appreciate the character interaction. The threadbare plot, which is spread across all five characters, doesn’t require much investment and those looking to jump right in with lewd pinball are safe to skip it entirely. Otherwise, the story is laid across Haruka’s mischievous shoulders, who has taken a part-time job managing a local arcade. A casual visit from some of the series’ headline characters quickly goes awry after one of them accidentally spills one of Haruka’s strange potions on herself and is transformed into a human/animal hybrid. As the potion spreads to the other girls and turns them into animals, Haruka has no choice but to ask the player’s help in bringing them back to normal. The only way to do this is to lure each girl on top of a pinball table and use a magical Peach Ball to “bop” them back to their human selves. This isn’t the craziest direction Senran Kagura has taken but it just might be a contender.
It may not be Zen Pinball but Senran Kagura Peach Ball offers a pretty great recreation of the classic arcade game. Using a pair of flippers, you’ll launch the ball all over the table and into tunnels, up ramps, and through special portals to rack up points, trigger special missions, and activate timed bonus events, like point modifiers and multi-balls to rack up huge points. Peach Ball emphasizes using the ball to return each of the characters to their normal, human form which is done by completing over a dozen different missions that pop up on the right side of the screen. Completing a mission initiates a “Sexy Challenge” that triggers when you strike the character sitting on the table with the pinball, sending her into a special room for an intimate mini-game. These are short games that give you a handful of seconds to score massive points by striking objects like rubber ducks, a balloon pump, and a moving ice cream cart. When the timer reaches zero, you’re treated to a short cutscene in which one of these objects provocatively attacks the girl, leaving them with torn clothing just like they do in the mainline games. Performing three Sexy Challenges unlocks a final “Super Sexy Challenge” that... well... involves launching pinballs at the character’s boobs or butt for a final push for points that ends with the character back to her human form - sans clothing.
All in all, this is the most fun I’ve had with Senran Kagura. Pinball is such a joy to me, slapping those paddles and watching the ball dance across the table as it bounces and smacks itself against bumpers and all of the interactive bits. Peach Ball nails that joy in a way I didn’t expect while at the same time staying true to what makes this franchise so (in)famous. A character-driven story mode lets you play pinball to save the girls, experiencing the adventure from their own different perspectives. There’s also a great Free Mode that lets you play the game without a story. Just pick the gal you want on the table and you’re good to go. It is a real, deep shame that there are only two tables available. By the time you’ve completed the story mode, you will have gotten really good (and bored) with the same two table designs over and over. The game’s menu has links for DLC and the Nintendo eShop, so I begrudgingly expect to see new content to be made available for purchase at a later date. At least, that’s what I hope. This game is too good and fun for it to languish because it doesn’t get updated with new table designs.
No Senran Kagura title is complete without a dress-up mode and Peach Ball uses the exact same options and features the last few games had. And it’s getting a bit old. Through continuous play, you’ll earn money to purchase accessories and clothing options intended to customize the appearance of the girls as they appear in game. There are also opportunities to score random items during play by activating a special, one of a kind mini-game that offer rare items, like pictures and table art. The more you play, the more silly items, such as dog ears, hats shaped like temples and ice cream carts, and pretty bows, are added to your dress-up inventory. A diorama mode turns the girls into action figures that can be positioned into different poses by themselves or with other characters against different backdrops. And then there’s the Intimacy mode which lets you get a little handsy as you guide disembodied robot hands to touch and caress the ninjas in a way that doesn’t sound creepy no matter how many times I try to write this sentence. The entire dress-up portion of the game isn’t new if you’ve followed previous Senran Kagura games and while each new game in the franchise is probably someone’s first, the content has gotten stale and in need of something fresh and new.
Senran Kagura Peach Ball is one of those “You got chocolate in my peanut butter/You got peanut butter in my chocolate” moments you don’t see often in video games. It combines the unapologetic lewd and silly nature of the franchise with the thrill and unpredictable excitement that I love about pinball.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.