The existence of Otoko Cross: Pretty Boys Mahjong Solitaire makes me smile for less than wholesome reasons — but those reasons perhaps aren’t what you might think.
Last week, we had some bellend in our comments section moaning about the fact we run a weekly Hump Day Husbandos column alongside our corresponding Waifu Wednesday feature. Said commenter not only appeared to have a problem with the existence of women who like video games, but with the very concept of “equality” in the first place.
I didn’t hesitate to eject him from the community because we don’t need crap like that stanking up our nice little hangout here, but part of me wishes I’d kept him around just until this week’s release of Otoko Cross: Pretty Boys Mahjong Solitaire, because it would have made his tiny head explode, and that would have probably been entertaining. But I digress, and we haven’t even really started yet.
Otoko Cross: Pretty Boys Mahjong Solitaire (“Otoko Cross” hereafter) is a new PC title from eastasiasoft. As the title suggests, it’s a spinoff of the Pretty Girls series that eastasiasoft has been working on alongside Zoo Corporation on, but this time around it’s developed specifically by eastasiasoft as an all-original title. Also it eschews the series’ titular pretty girls in favour of cross-dressing pretty boys with big throbbing cocks and impressively pendulous bollocks. Or, to put it more politely, it is a celebration of otokonoko culture through the medium of casual gaming.
If you’ve played an eastasiasoft and Zoo Corporation mahjong solitaire game before, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this one. Pick a character to play “against”, and clear three rounds of mahjong solitaire in order to see them change into a new outfit. Clear all the default characters’ stages and you unlock a final character.
Clear that character’s stages and you’ve beaten the game — except in the case of Otoko Cross, you also unlock “naked mode” at this point, which optionally replaces the fourth and final outfit from each character with, in the publisher’s words, “an uncensored and fully erect nude version”. I suspect this latter aspect may be nixed if and when we get a console release of this one — though you never know with the Nintendo of 2022!
On the offchance you’re unfamiliar with mahjong solitaire, it’s a very simple game at heart. You’re presented with an aesthetically pleasing layout of mahjong tiles, usually several layers deep, and your job is to get rid of all of them. The way you achieve this is by matching “open” tiles that you’re able to slide out sideways from the arrangement without disturbing any others. That’s it for the basics.
Like the more recent Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire titles, Otoko Cross provides the choice between an easy mode which allows you to reshuffle the tile layout several times to prevent getting “stuck”, and a regular difficulty which is timed and scored, with higher combo bonuses on offer for matches made in quick succession. There’s no penalty for playing the easy mode other than not recording your scores; you can still unlock all the outfits for the characters on this mode, so if you just want a more chilled-out game, this is the option to plump for.
What I find pretty interesting about Otoko Cross is that because eastasiasoft has developed it themselves rather than porting a pre-existing title by Zoo Corporation, they’ve seemingly been able to directly and systematically address pretty much every criticism that has ever been levelled at the series — aside from the frustration that comes from repeatedly failing to clear a level on normal difficulty, of course, but that’s all part of the fun!
One of the most obvious enhancements over the Pretty Girls series addresses a common complaint that although the characters are visually appealing, we don’t get to learn much about them from the mahjong solitaire games themselves.
For the unfamiliar, the Pretty Girls games all draw their characters from the back catalogues of nukige by Zoo Corporation’s imprints Norn, Miel, Cybele and Yumesta, and as such they have established backgrounds — you just have to track down and play their original games to find out the story behind them. And with them being sex-heavy nukige, many of which haven’t been localised, that’s not something everyone wants to do.
In Otoko Cross, meanwhile, all the characters have been designed specifically for this game, and that includes some background lore on each and every one of them, accessible from the stage select screen. Ultimately it doesn’t make a huge difference to gameplay or anything, but it is nice to learn a few bits and pieces about each of the pretty boys — particularly if you happen to notice some characters having distinct accents to their speech, or a habit of dropping words and phrases from languages other than Japanese.
It’s particularly nice that the background lore includes an explanation as to why these characters enjoy cross-dressing for one reason or another — and that these reasons are varied, interesting and plausible. It’s a nice nod to inclusivity — reminiscent of other media on the subject such as the manga Love Me for Who I Am — and helps all of the characters feel like they’re more than just fetish bait. Since this is such a simple, casual game, it didn’t need any of this to succeed in its goals, but the fact it is there shows that the folks at eastasiasoft really care about putting out a decent game — and perhaps establishing a franchise in the long term.
Another aspect of the game where it feels like some criticisms have been addressed is the difficulty. Otoko Cross strikes a good balance in this regard, with early stages being fairly straightforward but later ones confronting you with some seriously fiendish tile patterns that will require careful planning and observation to clear. This provides a much greater sense of satisfaction in progressing through the game than in something like the extremely easy Pretty Girls Rivers; you actually feel like the game is challenging you, rather than just presenting you with “content” to grind through mindlessly. This is a good thing.
There are other, smaller tweaks along the way, too. The mahjong tiles can be displayed in either “2D” or “3D” form, for example, though to be honest there’s not really a lot of benefit to the 3D mode, since you don’t appear to be able to manipulate the camera perspective and it actually makes it harder to see the heights of some stacks of tiles in certain cases.
Otoko Cross regrettably lacks the enhanced “Dressing Room” feature from Pretty Girls Rivers, which allowed you to place and pose multiple characters in a setting of your choice; here, there’s just a simple “zoom” feature that allows you to pan around the entire character model (including the parts not normally on screen) and admire them at your leisure. For some reason, you can’t move them to the side and leave them there, though; attempting to do so simply results in them “twanging” back to the dead centre. Someone at eastasiasoft clearly needs a lesson in photography’s Rule of Thirds!
On the whole, Otoko Cross: Pretty Boys Mahjong Solitaire is a solid release from eastasiasoft. In some respects, it’s a bit of a shame that this new IP kicked off with something as “safe” as a mahjong solitaire game rather than something more ambitious — but the intention is clearly there for Otoko Cross to grow into something much greater as time goes on.
I’m excited to see what happens next — these characters have plenty of potential, and it’ll be great to see them get further opportunities to shine, regardless of how much they may cause one to question one’s own sexuality.
Otoko Cross: Pretty Boys Mahjong Solitaire is available now for Windows PC via Steam. Thanks to eastasiasoft for the review code.
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