Over the years, we’ve seen that fairly simple game concepts tend to lend themselves well to having a dash of lewd added to them — even if said lewd is just there as a “reward” more than anything else. And Pairs from Nihon Bussan’s Nichibutsu label, an arcade title from 1989 that adapts the “Concentration” card game format, certainly falls into that category.
Before we proceed, it’s worth noting that there are actually two lewd arcade games with the name “Pairs”; Nichibutsu’s title which we’ll be looking at today, and one from Strata and Incredible Technologies, which features gameplay where you uncover low-resolution digitised photos of “The Giffy Girls”, nude models who were popular on pre-Internet bulletin board systems. I’ll leave the latter for you to discover in your own time.
Nichibutsu’s Pairs, however — just “Pairs” hereafter for simplicity’s sake — is actually a surprisingly fun game, though, because it adds a few fun little mechanics atop the basic Concentration formula. If, somehow, you’re unfamiliar with Concentration, it’s a very simple concept: you have a board full of cards that are face down, and it’s your job to find all the pairs of cards. Under normal circumstances, you’re simply trying to find all the matches in as few attempts as possible — and perhaps play against a friend — but Pairs has a bit of a twist.
In Pairs, you’re not trying to find all the pairs in order to proceed through the stages; in fact, to complete a stage you only need to find a single pair: the cards that depict a cute girl. Match these and you nab yourself a cool 5,000 points, move on to the next level and get to enjoy a bit of thoroughly silly lewdness, which we’ll come back to in a moment.
However, simply matching the cute girl cards immediately — which is actually very possible to do, since you get a split-second preview of all the cards in the layout before the level proper begins — isn’t the way to high scores in Pairs. Instead, you’ll want to pursue those other matches on the board, but there are a few things you need to watch out for.
Standard card suit symbols — clubs, hearts, diamonds and spades — all net you simple points when you find a pair of them. And pair of energy drinks earns you an extra “heart” — run out of these and your game is over, unless you put in another coin.
Where Pairs gets interesting is with its “one-off” cards, which have an immediate effect but don’t cost you a heart or re-hide the first card you flipped if they’re the second one you’ve drawn. These can take several forms: cards with “gold” values add to a stock of currency you can spend on the lewd scenes; crystal balls reveal one of the two cute girl cards for a split second; nuclear explosions shuffle all the cards on the board except for any you’ve already flipped.
Pairs’ main element of risk versus reward comes in the form of “ugly girl” cards. Draw one of these and you immediately lose a heart — but if you can match it with its pair right away, you gain three hearts back. Properly strategic use of these cards can keep your heart meter topped up — though the initial “damage” you have to take means that these won’t get you out of a real pinch, and will even end your game if you’re not careful!
As the game progresses, various different layouts of cards are used and the distribution of the cards is changed to keep things interesting. Later stages have two or more pairs of the risky ugly girl cards, for example, and some have a board that consists mostly of explosion cards, making it difficult to keep track of where anything is.
In this way, the game does actually have a sense of progression as you continue playing, rather than simply feeling like the same thing over and over again; you can “credit feed” your way through Pairs if you so desire, but the game is best treated as a single credit “score attack” sort of game to see how far you can get without having to continue.
So, about that lewd content, then. It crops up between each stage, and features one of four girls, each of whom has two different poses to show you. Each pose then has two items that you can purchase using the gold you acquire from the one-off cards, and making use of an item rewards you with a short and inevitably very silly animation that usually involves the girl in question becoming disrobed — if indeed she isn’t already.
Pairs is a game that knows that the concept of “sexy poses” is an inherently silly one, however titillating it might be, and thus tends to place emphasis on sexual comedy in these scenes rather than attempting to be either shocking or overly arousing. For example, in one scene, a girl playing her saxophone is rather shocked when the mouthpiece of said saxophone, apparently sentient and having a lovely time, starts gleefully inserting itself into her mouth in a rather suggestive manner.
Some may find these scenes objectionable from a modern perspective, since some carry distinct “non-consensual touching” undertones, but honestly the majority of them are so utterly ridiculous and obviously played for laughs that it’s difficult to take any of them too seriously. It’s certainly clear that the intent behind Pairs was very much to entertain and evoke laughter, not to offend.
Pairs is no great masterpiece, either of adult gaming or of gaming in general — but it is surprisingly fun. Concentration is a well-worn format that we’ve seen repeatedly adapted to the digital sector since the days of the Atari 2600 with varying degrees of success, so any game that makes use of this style of gameplay needs to do something distinctive to really stand out.
And Pairs succeeds in that regard through a combination of solid audio-visual presentation with colourful graphics and catchy music, fun additional mechanics atop the basic Concentration formula — and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding of what makes an arcade game enjoyable besides just pixel-art titties.
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