Zoo Corporation and eastasiasoft don’t appear to be running out of Pretty Girls games any time soon, and I’m 100% okay with that — since although you’re almost certainly never going to see these games topping “Game of the Year” lists any time soon, they’re consistently entertaining, thoroughly charming and filled with, as you might expect, pretty girls.
Pretty Girls Panic Plus, as the latest installment is known, is one of the best products of the relationship between original developer Zoo Corporation and localiser-publisher-port developer eastasiasoft to date. Although fundamentally similar to the previous “Panic” games we’ve seen from this partnership — including Bishoujo Battle Cyber Panic and Pretty Girls Panic — there are just enough tweaks to the formula in this one to make it an obvious improvement, and a title with quite a bit more long-term appeal than the other installments.
As with the other Panic games from Zoo and eastasiasoft, Pretty Girls Panic Plus is a game based on classic lewd arcade series Gals Panic, which, in turn was an offshoot of Taito’s retro legend Qix. Your goal in each stage is to draw lines across the play area in order to enclose sections and “capture” them. Capture 80% or more of the stage and you win — but if anything even the slightest bit nasty touches either you or your line while you’re drawing, you’ll lose a life.
Those nasty things take a variety of forms. Initially, you’ll be confronted with enemies that move in predictable patterns, but in later stages you’ll be forced to contend with enemies who have more challenging ways of behaving. Some will shoot bullets at you; some will lay land mines; some will correct course to home in on you while you’re drawing. Mastering how to deal with each type of enemy is essential to success in the game — whether you consider “success” to be simply clearing the stages, or attaining high scores on the global leaderboards.
There’s a good variety of different enemies, and their combinations are mixed up well as the stages progress, meaning there’s a nice difficulty curve to the game as a whole. New enemies are introduced gradually, allowing you to figure out strategies to overcome their threats, until eventually you’re fending off a selection of the most challenging foes the game has to offer.
Fortunately, you’re not entirely defenceless against these enemies, either; several power-ups allow you temporary invincibility, temporary “time freeze” on the enemies or double-speed movement — and if you can include an enemy in an area that you capture, you not only get a lovely big chunk of points, you also eliminate the enemy from the board completely. This is very useful when it comes to the more annoying enemies such as the ones who home in on you!
On top of all this, Pretty Girls Panic Plus features some interesting stage gimmicks that will significantly change the way you play. Tiles with upward-pointing arrows increase your speed, so can be very useful for making bigger captures than normal — but on the more negative side of things, there are skull tiles that immediately kill you, downward-pointing arrow titles that slow you down and yellow and black striped tiles that completely block all movement for both you and your enemies.
The variety provided from the combination of enemy formations and stage gimmicks helps Pretty Girls Panic Plus keep feeling fresh and interesting as you progress; at no point does the gameplay feel stale or that you’re doing the same thing over and over, because every stage is just a little bit different.
The “Pretty Girls” side of things comes into the equation in a couple of ways in Pretty Girls Panic Plus. Firstly, as in the previous Panic games from Zoo, each stage background features a silhouette of one of the titular Pretty Girls — once again drawn from Zoo’s extensive back catalogue of sexually explicit visual novels — and as you capture territory that overlaps this silhouette, you’ll reveal the image. There’s no need to reveal the whole image if it’s inconvenient or impractical to do so as in some other similar games — but it does provide an incentive to take some risks around the middle of the board.
The second way that Pretty Girls Panic features pretty girls is through a “companion character” system. As you play, you have the opportunity to level up two characters, with each level up unlocking a new outfit for them in the game’s “Dressing Room” feature. The companion characters don’t actually do anything aside from changing facial expressions and occasionally shouting things in Japanese at you while you’re playing, but this component of the game does provide a certain amount of long-term “metagame” that some of Zoo’s other titles lack.
Also noteworthy in this regard is the addition of an “Arcade Mode”. Previous Panic games from Zoo have unfolded stage by stage, with each stage acting as a self-contained challenge. In Pretty Girls Panic Plus’ Arcade mode, meanwhile, you can challenge an entire set of stages with a single stock of lives — it’s a welcome additional challenge after you’ve cleared all the individual levels, though it’s a pity that there are only online leaderboards for stages tackled individually. Competing against friends and opponents worldwide in the Arcade mode would have added potentially limitless longevity. Maybe in Pretty Girls Panic EX Plus Alpha.
As it stands, Pretty Girls Panic Plus is probably the strongest entry in this subseries of Zoo and eastasiasoft’s collaborative affairs — and indeed one of the strongest games in the lineup outright. It’s a game that is challenging enough to keep you busy for a while — and between the companion character metagame and the Arcade mode, it’s likely to keep you coming back for more for gameplay reasons, as well as the opportunity to admire Pretty Girls in their native habitat.
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