You know, it’s sort of interesting; we’re quick to criticise big-budget houses like Ubisoft for churning out the same old thing over and over again when it comes to big-budget releases — Far Cry 6 being the latest example. And yet somehow, when it comes to the fruits of the collaboration between Zoo Corporation and eastasiasoft — particularly the mahjong solitaire titles in the series, such as today’s subject Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire — I absolutely cannot get enough.
I think it’s something to do with the inherent simplicity of the formula being repeated. Games like Far Cry are, to some people, repetitive because there’s so much scope for them to do something different and interesting — and indeed the early installments in the series (particularly the vastly underappreciated second one) are proof positive of that. If you say “I’m going to make a mahjong solitaire game with tits”, however, there are only so many things you can do; expectations are set before you go in.
With that in mind, Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire, actually the first of Zoo Corporation’s Pretty Girls series to release on PC a few years back, is exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s a straightforward casual game in which you play mahjong solitaire in the hope of seeing an assortment of cute girls (of varying degrees of bustiness) in a selection of outfits, some saucier than others.
If you’re already on board with that idea and just want more of the same, you can probably stop reading now; Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire is just as cheap and cheerful as the other Zoo Corporation games, and just as worth having in your library.
In fact, it’s a close-run thing between this one and its direct successor Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire for being my favourite of all the Zoo Corporation games; the energetic music, lovely art and pleasingly responsive controls in this one make it a delight to play, even if it’s marginally simpler than its follow-up. There’s no scoring system in this one — and that means no online leaderboards, either. It’s just you against the clock, which may limit the replay value for some.
For those who might be new to the series — and perhaps to mahjong solitaire games in general — a brief explanation is probably in order.
Mahjong solitaire is a simple tile-matching game that uses the pieces you would normally use to play the much more complicated game of mahjong. As the name suggests, however, mahjong solitaire is a solo game, while mahjong itself is a communal affair, usually for four people.
Forget everything you know about mahjong, though, because the only thing that is important in mahjong solitaire is matching the pretty little pictures and symbols on the tiles. If you can pick out two of the same tile in the arrangement, you can pick them up and remove them. Remove all the tiles and you win; get into a position where you can’t remove any more (or run out of time) and you lose.
There is a single restriction on the tiles you’re allowed to remove: they must be “free”, which means they can be slid out to either their left or right side without disturbing the rest of the arrangement. In practice this means that they have at least one completely empty edge on either the left or the right — easy enough to spot.
And that’s it, really; what little complexity the game has comes from the myriad possible ways the tiles can be arranged and stacked on the table at the start of a session; some of these are significantly easier to clear than others due to starting with more “free” tiles. You’ll soon get a feel for which arrangements are going to prove troublesome after just a short period of playing!
The overall structure of Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire involves you playing “against” the titular Pretty Girls, who, as with other installments in the series, are all drawn from the visual novels published by Zoo Corporation’s adult entertainment imprints Norn and Miel. While there are some mildly lewd outfits in Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire, there’s nothing outright explicit, though; if you want to track down the source material, localisation outfit Cherry Kiss Games has been bringing a few of them to the west (on PC only, naturally) in the last few years. Do with that information what you will.
The Pretty Girls don’t actually “oppose” you as such; they simply stand to the side of the tile arrangement making provocative noises and pulling faces as you make matches. In the third round of each stage, their outfit gradually changes according to your progress; when you finally beat that final round, they’ll have a completely new outfit. Your ultimate goal in the game is to unlock all of the outfits for all the girls; there are five girls in total, each with either three or four stages (and corresponding outfits), each of which has three rounds to work through. That’s a decent amount of puzzling ahead of you.
The five girls of Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire offer a nice selection of character archetypes; there’s the energetic sporty one, the noisy one with cat-like mannerisms, the “ara ara” mommy figure (with a suitably exorbitant chest size) and more to discover — and across their various outfits you’ll find a lot of popular visual fetishes catered to, including bikinis, lingerie, one-piece swimsuits, leotards, magical girls, idols, business outfits and plenty more besides. This is a game that knows what its audience wants.
And that sums up the whole series of Zoo Corporation titles, really; they’re up-front about what they are, they take no shame in that whatsoever — and they’re enjoyable, addictive little games with a distinct sense of personality as a result.
And while I most certainly wouldn’t say no to a “Pretty Girls Complete Collection” or something on a nice physical Switch cartridge, even as a dedicated collector of physical games I must say it’s nice to have digital versions of games like Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire always on hand — they’re absolutely perfect for those quiet moments when you have your Switch with you and a few minutes to kill. Just be careful, though; those few minutes can easily turn into a few hours!
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