The History of Lewd: Pocket Gal

Up until now on The History of Lewd, we’ve primarily focused on visual novels. Visual novels are, after all, the first thing most people think of when they think of erotic games that originate in Asia.

But there’s a tradition in the more retro side of Asian popular media that we haven’t explored as yet in this column, and that’s the wonderful world of lewd arcade games.

While actual arcades are mostly a relic of a past era in many parts of the world, the tradition of lewd arcade games lives on through modern titles such as Bishoujo Battle Cyber Panic, Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire and Poker Pretty Girls Battle. And thus many of these classic lewd Japanese titles hold up rather well today — particularly if you’re in the mood for something light and fluffy that doesn’t require much in the way of commitment.

So today, then, we have Pocket Gal, Data East’s lewd billiards game.

Pocket Gal precursor Side Pocket
Side Pocket (Arcade, 1986)

Pocket Gal is actually the follow-up to an earlier Data East arcade title called Side Pocket, which originally released in 1986. Side Pocket in its original form is a game based on 8- and 9-ball billiards that features an interesting arcade-style scoring system in lieu of competitive play.

Pocket a ball and you score points; clear the table and you get bonuses according to the number of balls you successfully pocketed in succession without missing one, and the number of balls you pocketed in the correct numerical order. The more points you get, the more the ill-defined bunny girls on the interstitial screens between stages like you. Repeat until you run out of credits and/or get tired — though note that every time you continue, your score resets to zero.

Pocket Gal

Pocket Gal is essentially almost the exact same game with tits. Okay, it’s had a fresh coat of paint — including a somewhat less 1920s-style soundtrack than its spiritual predecessor — and there’s a bunch of additional interface elements that make things like knowing the order to pot the balls in a lot easier, but for the most part, Pocket Gal is Side Pocket is Pocket Gal.

In fact, this would become literally true when it came to the 1992-1993 Super NES and Sega Mega Drive ports of “Side Pocket”; these closely resemble the arcade game Pocket Gal Deluxe from the same era — albeit with the lewd stuff removed, unsurprisingly — rather than being simple conversions of the original 1986 arcade game. The Mega Drive version even used Pocket Gal’s original arcade flyer artwork.

(And just to confuse matters, the original 1986 version of Side Pocket did get a port to NES, but let’s not muddy the waters.)

Pocket Gal
(Left) Pocket Gal Deluxe, (Right) Side Pocket SNES

The Super NES version of Side Pocket can be enjoyed as part of the Data East Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system — click here to find out more.

Okay, Pocket Gal isn’t quite identical to the original Side Pocket. A notable addition to the formula is the “Zone Shot” mechanic, whereby a particular pocket gets marked and offers you one of several bonuses.

If a Zone Shot occurs at random in the middle of a frame, you can sink the cue ball in the marked pocket to automatically position all of the remaining coloured balls in front of the pockets on the table; alternatively, you can simply sink a ball in that pocket for a bonus.

When you’re down to the last ball on the table, meanwhile, you also get a Zone Shot opportunity. This time around, sinking the cue ball causes the table to change colour and lose almost all of its friction, allowing for some spectacularly long-range trick shots if you know how to handle the situation. Alternatively, again, you can sink the last ball for a simple bonus.

Alongside this, there’s also a randomly occurring “Super Ball” mechanic, where twatting the right ball at the right time causes it to go absolutely flying, and pockets marked with a star occasionally show up, too; these can give you bonus points or additional balls to play with (shush) if you successfully pocket a ball in them while they’re present.

Being an arcade game, Pocket Gal wants to extract as many credits out of you as possible, so you don’t get to play a full game of pool just because you put your money in. Nope, instead you have a stock of balls that are consumed as you shoot; failing to pocket a ball consumes one of these, and fouling a shot consumes two of them. Run out and you’ll have to continue, but, as in the original Side Pocket, this resets your score to zero.

So where does the lewd stuff come in? Well, while in the original version of Side Pocket you were simply attempting to score as many points as possible by completing as many tables as you could. Regular tables would be interspersed with trick shot opportunities, and there was no real “end” to it — you just played as long as you could, or as long as you wanted.

Pocket Gal

In Pocket Gal, meanwhile, you’re attempting to impress several different pixel art ladies. And in order to do that, you need to clear a table with a set number of points. Most of these points will come from the post-game bonuses, so it’s important to try and focus on potting as many balls in succession and numerical order as possible, particularly once you’re past the first stage.

At the conclusion of a stage, if you beat the “Champion” score, the lady in question will strip off and bare all for you; this allows you to proceed to the next stage. Do moderately well and she might show you her skimpies. Do badly and she’ll put her clothes back on. Also there’s a girl on the title screen who gets increasingly naked the more credits you put in, all the while murmuring vaguely provocative phrases in muffled 1987-era sampled Japanese speech. Delicious.

Pocket Gal is one of those games where the lewdness is just sort of incidental to the whole experience — it could quite easily have not been there and the game would have been just fine, as the excellent Super NES and Mega Drive versions of Side Pocket will attest. But it’s interesting that it exists at all — and that it would form the basis of the series’ future evolution.

Pocket Gal

Regardless of your feelings on that lewd content, Pocket Gal is worth a play if you get the opportunity. If you’ve never played it, you might not think that billiards would necessarily make for a particularly compelling video game — but once you’ve got into the groove of what it’s doing, it’s hard to stop, regardless of how much skin you get to see.

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Pete Davison
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