It’s been a while since we had a new Pretty Girls game from the fruitful partnership between Zoo Corporation and eastasiasoft, so it was a real pleasure to encounter Pretty Girls Breakers. Not only is it a brand new Pretty Girls game for us to enjoy, it’s also something a little different from the other titles in the series we’ve seen to date.
Rather than being an adaptation of a tabletop card game, some form of solitaire or a Gals Panic-style line-drawing game, Pretty Girls Breakers instead takes aim for another beloved casual gaming genre: the brick-breaker. But rather than being a simple Breakout or Arkanoid ripoff, Pretty Girls Breakers does some interesting things that make it worth checking out — and a worthwhile addition to the growing Pretty Girls collection as a whole.
I find it difficult to believe that anyone reading this is unfamiliar with the principles of a block-breaker, but just in case, the concept is simple. You’re presented with a “wall” of bricks and provided with a ball that must be used to smash them. Smash all the bricks on a screen and you beat the level. Simple as that, in its most basic form.
But Pretty Girls Breakers makes things interesting and distinctive right from the outset, beginning with the way you control the game. Rather than simply using a flat “paddle” as in most other games of this type, in Pretty Girls Breakers you instead control a vaguely humanoid ship wielding a glowing neon-coloured “bat”. By tapping the B and A buttons (X and Circle on PlayStation, but who’s buying sexy games on PlayStation these days?) you can swing the bat either from left to right or right to left, and in order to hit the ball back at the wall you actually need to take a swing at it like this.
Thankfully, this is no absurdly challenging baseball game that requires precise timing; all you really need to do is waft your bat vaguely near the ball and it’ll count as a hit — though you are rewarded for hitting it with perfect timing. The ball will change colour and add to a combo meter; after five combo hits, the ball will temporarily power up, meaning it’ll smash right through blocks and continue on its way until it bounces off something unbreakable, rather than simply bouncing off everything it hits as normal. Not only that, but at the end of the level you’ll get bonus points according to how long your greatest unbroken combo was.
You by no means need to make use of the combo swing mechanics to succeed in Pretty Girls Breakers, but it’s a nice addition for those who find themselves wanting to chase high scores, and it adds some longevity in this regard. It probably won’t take you more than an hour or two to beat all the available levels for the first time — so the fact the game features online leaderboards and some solid scoring mechanics gives it some good arcade-style appeal.
As you begin playing Pretty Girls Breakers, the action is fairly straightforward: just you against the wall. But as you progress through the stages, you’ll start to encounter more and more hazards.
Initially, you’ll find unbreakable blocks which… well, you can’t break them, so they just get in the way. Then there are rotating “handle” things that are some of the most monumentally irritating things in the entire game, often sending your ball flying in unpredictable directions.
Then you’ll encounter gun turrets that fire shots at you — if one of these hits your ship, you’ll lose one of your five lives, just as if you’d dropped a ball, but you can also hit the bullets back with your bat, and these can also break blocks just like the ball. And, as the game reaches its climax, you’ll come across mobile enemies who move and shoot — and who must be defeated as well as breaking the wall.
The odds aren’t stacked completely against you, however; in accordance with the law in place for every block-breaker since Taito’s Arkanoid, there are a range of available power-ups that are occasionally revealed by breaking blocks. One of these temporarily extends your bat’s length; one slows down the ball; one adds an additional multiball to the screen; one adds a “safety net” behind your bat that can protect you against five misses or bullets; one allows you to throw a bomb at the wall; and one allows you a short period of firing your own bullets at the wall and enemies.
Again, the power-ups are by no means essential to success, but making good use of them will help net you better clear times and allow you to make more difficult shots in some cases. The multi-ball power-up is especially fun, as there appears to be no limit to how many balls can be in play at once — and you only lose a life if you drop the last remaining one on screen. Things can get joyfully chaotic if you let them, particularly on the later stages where the bullets are flying thick and fast.
Pretty Girls Breakers has a good difficulty curve, with each of the seven girls having three or four stages each, and each of them escalating slightly in terms of difficulty and the number of hazards you’re expected to deal with simultaneously. By the time you reach the final girl’s stages, you’ll be fending off veritable storms of bullets while attempting to coax the ball into distinctly awkward positions; the feel of the game is very different at this point to the rather sedate pace it has at its outset!
As usual for Zoo Corporation games, the presentation is attractive. Music is drawn from the popular royalty-free library of Dova-Syndrome, but is well-chosen and varied across the game’s stages, with each girl having a unique theme. And the titular Pretty Girls are, as always, drawn from the company’s vast library of nukige published under the Norn, Miel and Cybele brands, though despite a prominent on-screen warning about all characters being over the age of 18, do not actually get naked or do anything sexual at any point.
In fact, compared to some other Pretty Girls titles, Pretty Girls Breakers is relatively mild on the lewd front; a couple of characters strip down to bikinis, but for the most part the costumes you unlock by completing levels are inspired by traditional Japanese outfits such as kimonos and shrine maiden garb. Definitely an aesthetic with its own appeal for sure, but if you’re coming into this hoping for lots of skin on show, you might be disappointed in that regard.
There’s a couple of mild bugs in the game, too. When switching between handheld and docked mode on Switch, the interface element that counts how many times the “safety net” can be hit ends up positioned incorrectly, though this is easily ignored.
A little more frustrating, however, is the fact that the level design on some of the very late stages has areas where the ball can get “stuck” bouncing around at high speed with no hope of getting back out again. If this happens, you have no option but to restart the stage, even if you’d almost cleared it. Annoying, yes, but relatively infrequent, thankfully. Keep more than one multiball in play and it won’t be a problem at all.
On the whole, Pretty Girls Breakers is an enjoyable game, despite the minor issues described — and it’s a good sign that Zoo Corporation is happy to take the series beyond just card and tabletop games or line-drawing affairs. I’d be happy to see more adaptations of classic arcade games given the Pretty Girls twist — and in the meantime this will be sitting happily on my Switch alongside the other games in the series for when I’m in the mood for some mildly ecchi casual fun!
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