I won’t lie: despite being a fan of the Pretty Girls series from Zoo Corporation and its console ports by eastasiasoft, I was a little skeptical about Pretty Girls Speed.
Speed, after all, is not a very complicated card game, and I was wondering if this might be the game where the Pretty Girls series finally took the “casual play” angle a little too far. After all, previous attempts to adapt Speed to the digital sphere have left me rather cold — it’s one of the games in Nintendo’s otherwise excellent 51 Worldwide Games that you’ll likely try once and then never touch again, for example — and thus I was wary.
Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. Pretty Girls Speed takes its simple concept and… well, it doesn’t really overcomplicate matters at all, to be honest. But what it does do is flash things up a bit with some fancy presentation and well-considered mechanics, and the result is an enjoyable, addictive game that bodes well for the future of the Pretty Girls series — particularly as its various installments are starting to get physical releases now, too.
For the unfamiliar, Speed is a simple card game in which there are two cards laid out in the middle of the table, and both players are then provided with a face-up hand of cards and a face-down deck to draw from. Playing simultaneously, both players must attempt to add cards to the piles in the middle that are either one higher or one lower than the shown value. King wraps around to Ace and vice-versa, and the game continues until one player or the other has exhausted both their deck and their hand.
If neither player is able to go, both players draw a face-down card from their deck and add it to one of the piles, so that both centre cards are replaced. If this situation arises and a player has already exhausted their deck, they can pick which card from their hand to play.
That’s it. That’s everything you need to know about Speed. As a tabletop card game, it can be pretty fun but it’s also a bit of a pain to administer and can easily get messy. As a digital game, you can likely see that there’s potential for fun — but given the heavily reaction-based nature of the game, that control scheme had better be good, particularly if you’re supposed to be able to compete against computer-controlled players.
Thankfully, Pretty Girls Speed gets this right, offering a simple D-pad system to immediately play your four cards when playing on your TV, and touchscreen compatibility if playing in handheld mode on Switch. It takes a little while to learn which D-pad direction corresponds to which card — just remember that “left” and “right” are the two extremes of your hand, with “up” and “down” being the two middle slots — but once you get to grips with that you’ll be able to play your cards with impressive speed.
And you’ll need it; while the early stages of Pretty Girls Speed are fairly straightforward to beat, the further you progress into the game — either by beating each of the characters in succession in best-of-three matches in Battle Mode or by working your way through the 100-stage Challenge Mode — the faster and more accurate your computer opponent will be. You’ll doubtless find a distinct, obvious point at which you start to lose — for me it was the opponent named Freesia — and that’s where you’ll need to start training your reaction times and mastery of the controls.
The presentation of Pretty Girls Speed does a great job of making each match feel like a proper “battle” of sorts. Dramatic music accompanies the action, a cyberspace-esque aesthetic blankets everything, and there are some sound effects that sound like they’ve come right out of a combination of Sega’s Phantasy Star Online and Bizarre Creations’ tragically underappreciated racer Blur. These are all good things, as are the slick transitions between the different game screens. This really is one of Zoo and eastasiasoft’s most polished Pretty Girls titles to date.
Helpfully, you can also see at a glance how well both you and your opponent are doing thanks to two progress bars in the middle of the screen. The more full your bar is, the closer you are to winning — and it can be exciting to watch, particularly during close-run matches, though of course you don’t want to take your attention off those all-important cards for too long.
Like most of the other Pretty Girls games, Pretty Girls Speed is probably not a game you’re going to spend hours at a time playing. But it does provide enjoyable, compelling, addictive fun when you’re in the mood for something that isn’t mechanically complex but which can still challenge your reactions. And between the highly replayable Battle Mode, which keeps track of your win percentage against each opponent, and the 100-stage Challenge Mode, there’s plenty of “stuff” here to keep you busy over the long term.
There are a few odd omissions that it would have been nice to see in Pretty Girls Speed, however. While it’s possible to look at the characters from the Battle Mode’s character select screen, there’s no dedicated gallery mode this time, nor are there any costumes to unlock.
Given that a key part of the appeal of the Pretty Girls series to date has been dressing up all these girls in a variety of increasingly saucy outfits, this feels like a missed opportunity to provide some unlockable incentives for continued play. It would have been especially nice to see something similar to the excellent Diorama mode in Pretty Girls Rivers, which allows you to pose and place multiple characters in a selection of scenes, but sadly it’s not to be.
Also, while the Pretty Girls series to date has typically lacked multiplayer — primarily because the games it has focused on in many of its installments tend to be solitaire affairs — I was surprised to see the complete lack of a two-player option here. With the cyberspace presentation, excellent music and satisfying arcadey sound effects, I’d love to play this against a friend — but again, sadly it seems it’s just you and the Pretty Girls for now.
These nitpicks aside, Pretty Girls Speed is a solid addition to the Pretty Girls series, and further evidence that Zoo Corporation and eastasiasoft are keen to develop and evolve this series in increasingly inventive and enjoyable directions. It makes sense; when announcing the physical release of the Pretty Girls Game Collection 4-in-1 bundle, eastasiasoft’s project lead Joshua Michael French noted that the Pretty Girls series are among the company’s most popular titles, and thus it stands to reason they’d want to keep bringing these characters back in new contexts — as well as develop spin-offs, such as the excellent Otoko Cross.
So what’s next for Pretty Girls after Pretty Girls Speed? I wonder. Pretty Girls Invaders? Pretty Girls Maze Chase? Pretty Girls Jewel Challenge? I’d be up for any of them, to be honest — though going by Zoo Corporation’s PC release schedule, I would guess that Pretty Girls Four Kings Solitaire and Pretty Girls Escape are next up for console ports!
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