I don’t know how else to break this news to you: they made a Senran Kagura pinball game! The game series known for bare-naked brawling and featuring sexual innuendo up the wazoo has taken that same chaotically horny energy and applied it to a pinball game. Shockingly, the fact that this completely nuts mash-up of ball-games and improbably anime boobs exists isn’t the most surprising part of all this. No, the most surprising part is that Senran Kagura Peach Ball is one of the best pinball video games I’ve ever played.
This isn’t just some simple virtual pinball machine kitted out with Senran Kagura pictures and slapped onto a game cartridge. There’s a good amount of thought and care put into the how and why of Senran Kagura Peach Ball. The why, as the opening minutes of the game explains, is that 5 of our favorite ninja girls have turned into fur-coated animal babes thanks to a dangerous concoction brewed up by Haruka. The only way to re-humanise them is to expose them to the mist from a specially brewed Peach Ball, but it needs a particular vibration frequency in order to activate. The shockingly un-horny answer to this dilemma, of course, is to lure the animal girls onto a life-sized pinball board and smack them around with the Peach Ball until it activates. I mean, of course it does.
The premise of Senran Kagura Peach Ball is absolutely bonkers, but it’s also a lot of fun. The previous Switch spinoff, Senran Kagura Reflexions, had a lot of storytelling issues that are completely avoided this time around. For one thing, characters behave like their usual selves again. Asuka was weirdly passive and meek in Reflexions, but in Peach Ball she’s back to her energetic and iron-willed self. On top of that, Peach Ball has much less of a focus on a self-insert nameless character like Reflexions did. Instead, story mode sees you picking one of the five girls present in the game, and then has you following the selected girl as she tracks down and re-humanises the other four.
The story is light and silly, but the added element of the ninjas being turned into half-naked animal girls feels forced. I enjoyed seeing characters who weren’t normally comrades get to interact with each other, but it was always sandwiched between scenes of the girls acting like mindless animals that I could have done without. Still, I’ll admit that some of the biggest laughs in the story can be contributed to antics involving the girls and their absurd animal forms.
It’s almost a shame that this game is so deeply entrenched in Japanese horniness that’s guaranteed to push so many people away, because this has got to be the most polished pinball video game I’ve ever put my hands on. All of the cinematic touches that Senran Kagura games are known for transfer over to Peach Ball, leading to excellently animated ball-shooting animations and countless other special scenes and events that blow other pinball games out of the water. This game embraces the appeal of old-school tactile pinball machines while also tossing in mechanics and visuals that could only be made possible with modern video games.
There’s also just so many things to do on these boards. As you play, Peach Missions will flood in on your HUD, giving you clear instructions on special actions to perform in order to get bonus points and fill your fever meter. As you reach each of the three stages of your meter, you can launch a ball at the ninja girl sitting in the middle of the field to activate a variety of different mini-games that can beef up your score and also bring you one step closer to humanising your ninja companion. Despite the dumb raunchiness of it, having to aim for certain body parts on the girl in the centre of the stage, as well as having to shake the machine in order to change her position, adds an extra layer of challenge to the proceedings that I was all about. There’s always something to aim for and activate on the table, and the game does an incredible job of helping make you aware of what’s going on and what you should try shooting at during play.
Between machine mechanics, Peach Missions, special event triggers and character dialogue, there can be a lot to keep track of on-screen and it sometimes gets a little too overwhelming. This is doubly true when playing in handheld mode. A variety of camera options help give you some control over the chaos, but it can still take some time before you know how to manage everything that’s happening on the play field.
Unfortunately, as good as these pinball tables are, there’s only two of them in the game. They’re incredibly detailed and full of content, but two tables can only last you so long. It’s a shame there isn’t at least a table for each character, because playing the same two tables throughout every story campaign can get tiring very quick. Those stories aren’t very long, either. Each character story is about an hour and a half in length with five stages, and besides these stories and a free-play mode, there isn’t much else on offer here.