|Might also be found under the name "Nijiro Dodgeball."|
Before it came out I was told (thanks jijikun and Technosphile) that Kunio Taki himself, mastermind behind Technos Japan and the "Kunio" games of yore, including what became known in the US as "Super Dodge Ball," was a member of Nijiro's creative team, and now that I've played it I'm convinced that something like this was indeed the case as it plays almost exactly like an enhanced Super Dodge Ball, right down to using the same special moves, only without the horrible slowdown and with ten quartets of teenage anime babes taking the place of SDB's teams of overgrown musclemen. Sounds pretty much like the ideal game, eh?
Now, when I said "enhanced," I was referring to more than just breast size (though the manual lists these dutifully). Pressing L1 when you have the ball sends one of your teammates hurtling toward the other side with an impressive flying leap: pass them the ball and they get off a powerful surprise attack right in the midst of the enemy. If your opponent catches on to that, press L1 two or three times to send multiple strikers flying across his lines. Neat stuff, and though I haven't had a chance to try it yet, this has got to add quite a bit of life to multiplayer, which was far too predictable in SDB.
The second main enhancement is on the other shoulder button, R1, and lets you target a specific member of the opposing team by toggling through their ranks. Now, the unfortunate thing here is that while team members have individual strengths and special moves, they all look more or less the same size; I really miss the gigantic ubermen from SDB who carried their whole team on their oversized backs. I suppose it's more balanced this way, or something.
Speaking of character differences, it looks as though a different artist drew the character portraits for each team, and all are very well, err, formed. Indeed the game lives up to its namesake as brilliant color sparkles in every screen (but sounds are unremarkable). You get to see a lot of colorful backdrops in "Venus League" mode, the story mode where you pick one of three female managers to carry one of four teams to victory in the league championship.
The first 80% of story mode goes like this: give each of your four players an exercise to focus on for that week, watch a little scene of their super-deformed sprite skipping through the exercise, click through some stuff each of them tells you after they're done, then on to a conversation or two with various people, generally your team members or managers of rival teams, then it's on to the next week and lather, rinse, repeat. Super-duper boring because these chicks talk like there's no tomorrow and I can hardly understand a word of it. For a while I tried to entertain myself by making up English lines for them but after oh maybe half an hour I ran out of chauvinistic ideas and conserved my strength for hammering on the "next sentence" button as furiously as possible.
Finally after five or six game months of that, interspersed with two or three matches against rival teams, you get to the championship (I'm not sure where the whole season went, I had a 1-2 record when I got there...) and play uh three or four games in a row to win it all. Then you click through about ten minutes of ending conversations and you're done. At this point I guess you could go play one of the three other story mode teams if you really wanted to spend a lot more time clicking.
The dispiriting thing about Venus League is that although you can choose between a dozen or so exercises for each player each week, in an attempt to raise their five modifiable attributes as high as possible while keeping fatigue as low as possible (you have to give them a week off fairly frequently, the slackers... and there's a big hullabaloo at Christmas), I don't see much sense in picking anything other than the dash jump exercise that raises four of the attributes pretty decently. Actually I should say that I wouldn't see much sense in picking any other, except that the attributes are constantly backsliding on their own anyway, so what's the darn point? I could very well be missing something here, I dunno. I can't read the names of most of the attributes anyway.
Each girl also has six non-modifiable attributes (most of these are also mysterious kanji) and a happiness rating. I gave one girl a bracelet somehow (or maybe she gave it to me, I dunno) and she was pretty happy the whole season. She also had the largest bust on the team. Coincidence? Hmm.
Fortunately you can skip the teasing hell of Venus Mode and go straight to "Speed" mode, where you just pick two teams to go at it. Before a match you can choose between four or five formations (a very nice feature, another significant enhancement over SDB), swap your girls' positions, set a four-option toggle for each one (I have a feeling this affects their AI behavior, but I have no actual idea of what each setting does), and, in Speed mode, activate a "Code" for wacky effects like low gravity.
Annnd that's pretty much it, I think, because while you can save your progress during a Venus League season, I don't see a way to carry that save over into another season, so I'm guessing that there are no hidden features to unlock, since you couldn't save them; you can load your current Venus League team stats into Speed mode but I don't know what the stats do (and mine always sucked) so as yet I can't see much point to doing that.
In the end what we have here is SDB with no slowdown (thank the gods), boobs, fairly unremarkable character sprites, three very useful gameplay enchancements (formations, L1 team attack, R1 target selection), and a league mode in which you can only play as four of the teams and have to spend most of your time clicking through Japanese dialogue just to get to a short championship. All in all I'm pretty happy with it as a successor to SDB, only I wish that you could opt to cut out the training and dialogue, and that the actual championship was a few games longer (I was playing on Medium difficulty, so I guess it could be longer on Hard).
Well gee, this got long. Can you tell that I played way too much SDB in my youth?