Now, we love cute underwear as much as the next girly girl - but Yuta Iritatsu, the voyeuristic star of upskirt-loving anime, Punch Line, really takes the biscuit. A true connoisseur of the frilly and the lacy, when a nubile anime lady bends over in front of him, he just can't help steal a glance - something which often has catastrophic results. You see, for reasons that will only eventually kind of be explained in the game, when Yuta catches an accidental glimpse of a pair of pants, the whole world comes to an abrupt end - literally. Add in the fact he lives in an apartment block with a load of teen girls who like wearing short skirts, bending over and generally flashing their underwear to all and sundry, and you're almost always teetering on the brink of an apocalypse. Oh, and did we mention that Yuta is technically a ghost, as a result of being body-napped by an unseen assailant - and is currently on a mission to reclaim his body with the help of a talking ghost cat?
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Such is (part of) the plot of Punch Line, one of the kookiest animes we've seen in recent years - and now one of the weirdest visual novels, too. While the whole panty-premise is all a bit of fun, beneath the surface bubbles a surprisingly serious story involving terrorist plots, secret identities and human experimentation, amongst others. Then there's the mystical art of Cheermancy (a strange dance done whilst wearing a magical pigeon mask); the continuing saga of spiritual medium Rabuna's lacklustre love life; and the reclusive gamer Ito's attempts to conceal her pet bear from her roommates. Sometimes serious, often funny, and always downright weird, Punch Line basically combines everything Japan loves into one single story - and somehow manages to make it (mostly) make sense.
The game itself pretty much perfectly follows the plot of the anime, albeit padding out certain sections to give you a bit more to do in between. Divided into 21 'episodes', each with an intro theme and outro credits, you'll work your way to getting Yuta's body back, stopping the terrorists and saving the world, all whilst trying to avert your eyes from your housemates' underwear. For all intents and purposes, Punch Line is a pretty by the numbers visual novel, primarily relying on its story to keep you playing, interspersed with the occasional more puzzling 'trick' segment, which see Yuta performing ghostly tricks and pranks on the girls and their surroundings in an effort to try and trick them into doing what he wants.
However, as a ghost - or astral body, as they prefer to be called - poor old Yuta is at a distinct disadvantage, as a) his newly-acquired spirit form doesn't really come with much in the way of powers, and b) his body tends to pass directly through most objects, which makes getting things done a bit more challenging. For example, your first mission is to locate an ancient tome, the Nandara Gandara, which apparently contains some much needed information on how to kick the free-loading spirit back out of Yuta's body. As a handy coincidence, the book happens to be somewhere in your apartment block - although exactly where it is is still very much a mystery. While spying on ditsy Mikatan, you overhear that she's somehow managed to lock an important book in her desk drawer and misplace the key - and as it's the only lead you've got, it's a good place to start.
The key itself sits on Meika's workbench in another room - but without the ability to pick up and move said key, the only way you're going to reunite it with its owner is if you can bring Mikatan to it, somehow. For this, you'll need to work your way between each character's room, and set up a number of 'tricks', in the hope of triggering a chain of events that'll lead your victim (in this case, Mikatan) to the right place. It may sound a bit complex, but all you really need to do is choose between a handful of items you can interact with in each room, picking the right combination to set off a chain reaction. Unfortunately, it's not always obvious what effects different items will have on characters - and as you can only play a certain number of tricks before you're out of spirit power, it is possible to pick so many wrong tricks you end up scuppering yourself. As such, trick sections do tend to require a bit of trial and error - but with only a handful of possibilities in each segment, you shouldn't need more than a couple of do overs to figure things out anyway.
So, back to Mikatan and her drawers! Her locked desk drawers, that is. Exploring Mikatan's room, you'll soon spot a note pinned to the fridge that you can interact with - so get ghost Yuta to throw it on the ground. With Mikatan spooked, if you zip to Rabura's place, a salt shaker on the side of the sink can meet its unfortunate demise at the hands of Yuta's ghostly powers. Finally, if you head over to to Meika's, you'll see she's busy with her noisy circular saw - and all you really need to do is flick the switch and turn it off. While individually, these may all seem pretty minor, when combined, they actually become something rather powerful.
You see, now she doesn't have the saw ringing in her ears, Meika can hear that Rabura has returned, and pops over to give her a message someone had left with her about a job offer. A key part of her exorcism business, Rabura goes to pick up her salt shaker, only to find it's fallen in the sink and got all soggy - so she heads over to Mikatan's to borrow some more. When there, she stumbles on Mikatan's fridge note, reminding her she's supposed to go and pay Meika the rent today, which sees Mikatan trot off to Meika's room, finding her lost key on the workbench in the process. And now comes the moment Yuta's been waiting for, as Mikatan opens her locked desk drawer to reveal… the script for her upcoming musical, rather than the magical book he was hoping for.
The further you get through the game, the more advanced tricks you'll be able to perform on the girls, hopefully leading them in the right direction to continue the story. However, as your skills as a spirit get more advanced, so to does the risk that you'll come face to face with a pair of panties and end the world. A handy 'Boom!' gauge on the left of the screen shows Yuta's current excitement level, and when a pair of pants is visible on screen, it quickly starts to rise... Fail to look away in time, and you'll end up getting an explosive game over. Fortunately, apparently spirits are able to go back in time, so there's no real penalty, and you can repeat as many times as you need to cure your underwear addiction and/or figure out the right combination of tricks to progress - just try not to wipe out the entire planet too many times.
If you loved the Punch Line anime as much as we did, or you just have a penchant for visual novels (as we do), then Punch Line the game is a bit of a no brainer, giving you as good an excuse as any to revisit the weird and wonderful world of Yuta and his panty-powers. While the puzzle segments may feel a bit simplistic and random, its wacky premise, cast of lovable characters and an expanded story over the anime means there's plenty of straight up bonkers fun to be had here - and plenty of pants to check out too, if that's your thing.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4