Pretty Girls Rivers: Mahjong solitaire with a couple of twists

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The nice thing about Zoo Corporation’s Pretty Girls series, brought to consoles by eastasiasoft, is that the concept is so vaguely defined that it can be applied to pretty much any type of game. Indeed, to date we’ve seen the series tackle mahjong solitaire, klondike solitaire, Texas hold ’em poker, Gals Panic-style area capture and even Breakout. Pretty Girls Rivers adds another variation on the solitaire casual game theme to the mix — and while the game as a whole is a little lacking in challenge, it’s definitely a fine addition to the lineup.

Pretty Girls Rivers is based on a variation on mahjong solitaire. In conventional mahjong solitaire, tiles are stacked several layers high, and are removed by matching pairs which are “free” to slide out from the arrangement sideways without disturbing everything. In Pretty Girls Rivers, meanwhile, tiles are laid out on a single layer, and pairs can be matched if you can draw a line with no more than two bends in it between them. It’s the exact same formula as used in Hatsune Miku Connecting Puzzle Tamagotori recently, only with mahjong tiles instead of colourful eggs.

Pretty Girls Rivers

As with most other Pretty Girls games, Pretty Girls Rivers is split into numerous stages, split into several rounds — four, in this case. Each stage is themed around an individual character and a costume, and during the fourth round of each stage the character will gradually change into their new outfit as you progress through the puzzle. Each character has their own unique music for their regular rounds, but the “costume change” rounds always have the same music, giving them something of a “boss fight” feel.

As always, the titular Pretty Girls are drawn from the back catalogue of nukige published by Zoo Corporation’s imprints Norn, Miele, Cybele and Yumesta, and indeed you’ll likely recognise several of the characters from previous Pretty Girls games. There’s a nice mix of different girls and outfits on offer, though the lewd side of things is kept relatively mild despite a prominent warning on startup about all characters being over 18. Each girl also features Japanese voice acting, with them responding to your progress through each level in various ways.

Pretty Girls Rivers is fun. It’s really fun, actually; after downloading it I sat down and played it for several hours without stopping. Trouble is, in those couple of hours I cleared every single level with minimal resistance — I didn’t reach a fail state at any point until the last set of stages. The game is very easy, and since Pretty Girls Rivers is a form of mahjong solitaire that is much more forgiving and less prone to randomness than conventional mahjong solitaire, there’s perhaps not a lot that could be done about that.

Pretty Girls Rivers

The harder stages do make for some interesting puzzles by placing immovable walls in the way of the “rivers” you’re drawing between tiles, but there aren’t enough of these difficult stages. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there simply aren’t enough stages at all. While it’s nice that there are several different Pretty Girls to choose from, they each have an inconsistent number of costumes to theme their stages around; some girls have four or five stages and costumes, while others only have one or two.

That said, there is a fun additional challenge if you’d care to engage with it, and that is pursuing a “perfect score” for each stage in Pretty Girls Rivers. This isn’t part of the game that is formalised in any way, but there is a theoretical perfect score you can achieve for each stage by clearing each round quickly enough to ensure you have an unbroken combo, and finishing each round with the maximum possible time bonus. Indeed, if you look at the top of the online leaderboards for the first few stages in particular, you’ll notice that there are several people all with the exact same score — that’ll be the perfect score.

Achieving a perfect score on the early stages of Pretty Girls Rivers is pretty straightforward, since the levels are simple and small. But the further you go into the game, the more complex the stages become, and the more frantic the pursuit of the perfect score becomes. Once you start engaging with the game like this, it becomes much more interesting and enjoyable — and has a ton more longevity. I find myself wishing that this side of things had been more explicitly coded into the game itself rather than being something you have to discover and pursue for yourself — but still, it’s an option that’s there.

Pretty Girls Rivers

With all of the above in mind, let’s bear in mind that Pretty Girls Rivers costs about a fiver, and thus we can’t be too hard on it. As a “straight to budget” casual game, it offers plenty of value and enjoyment, and the quality of its presentation is among the best in the Pretty Girls series as a whole. The new “Diorama” mode is a simple but effective addition, too, allowing you to set up your own scenes featuring all of the characters in the game instead of just admiring one at a time.

Between titles like this and Pretty Girls Breakers, it’s also pleasing to see Zoo Corporation moving beyond the “safe” casual game options into slightly more ambitious or unusual affairs; as previously noted, the beauty of the Pretty Girls formula as they’ve established it is that it can be attached to pretty much any type of casual or retro-style game you’d care to mention! In fact… hmm, hold that thought, I have an idea.

Sorry, was lost in thought for a moment there. Anyway, Pretty Girls Rivers is a good time, and if you fancy another nice casual puzzler featuring pretty anime-style girls on your Switch, it’s a good addition to the lineup as a whole. Don’t expect it to last you too long — but like I say, if you do want to squeeze some additional (and surprisingly enjoyable) longevity out of it, be sure to tackle the perfect score challenge. I’ll be waiting for you atop the leaderboards!

Pretty Girls Rivers is out now for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation platforms. Thanks to eastasiasoft for the review copy.

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Pete Davison
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