While Block Gal is pretty chaste as far as electro-grot goes- yes, we love that phrase so much we're gonna use it as much as possible- we decided against showing you the 8-bit mammaries in this game. This is mostly because it's lewder than Pocket Gal. We did check the fine print on our hosting service and apparently it's OK to host nudity / porn if it'S OK with UK law (which, come to think of it, probably still makes this game fall foul anyway) so at this point we're not putting them up simply out of stubbornness. The cornerstone of this entire site, really, isn't it?
Goodness, is that Sega's name on the title screen of some 80s electro-grot?!
It sure is! However, they're merely providing the hardware. The real developer is actually Seibu Lease under VIC Tokai- you can read more about their relationship at the GDRI but essentially they were two separate companies (with employees from both in the same office) with Seibu Lease working on graphics and planning and VIC Tokai on programming and sales. When their works are put together, VIC Tokai and Seibu Lease are an interesting pair- among their more notable creations are the Kid Kool lineage (Kid Kool, Psycho Fox and Decap Attack- all unrelated aside from near-identical game mechanics) and the Battle Mania series (Forgotten Worlds with two characters at once)- but for the purposes of this article, let's look at their relationship with Sega.
Something must've been going on between the two, because as well as Sega apparently retaining the rights to Decap Attack, and the baffling return of Battle Mania heroines Madison and Crystal in the climactic battle of SEGAGAGA, VIC Tokai were one of a few non-Sega companies to use their earlier arcade hardware (with Sega getting credit on the title screen), in particular the System 1 board. Most of the games on this hardware were developed either by Sega themselves or Coreland (who were close with Sega, as they developed Pengo and, on System 1, My Hero), and with the odd exception (Escape/Westone made Wonderboy of course, and a Sega-owned company called Whiteboard made a mahjong title) VIC Tokai/Seibu Lease were the only non-Sega entity to work on the hardware. Shame they wasted the opportunity and released only two games for it- a bizarre maze shooter called UFO Senshi Yohko Chan, and today's target, Block Gal.
Sadly, Block Gal isn't one of their better efforts.
It's not that it's bad out of a lack of effort, mind you, because despite its gutter-trash premise (which you can probably guess from the title alone) there's some pretty neat ideas in here. Block Gal isn't very subtle, however- it's a blatant rip-off of Arkanoid (which of course is a rip-off of Breakout but don't tell Atari) which came out in the previous year, pinching the gameplay basics and adding a few twists of its own. On the off-chance that you haven't played Arkanoid, or Breakout, or Prism Land Story or anything like it, then I have to ask which rock you've been living under for the past 20-odd years. For now, I'll humour you- you control a bat with a analogue paddle, and you've got to keep the ball from falling past the bat while trying to destroy all the blocks on the round by smashing them with the ball. You can also pick up power-ups in each round to help you out (see, this is what makes Block Gal a clone of Arkanoid and not Breakout). Clear the board of all blocks, move on to the next round, lather, rinse, repeat.
So, what does Block Gal do differently? Well, for a start, as the name implies you're playing for hot nekkid vid-con action, as between each round you reveal part of a picture of a naked anime girl. There's only two pictures to reveal, though, so the game's fairly short at 20 rounds (although it feels a lot longer than that...). Mechanics-wise, though, it mixes things up quite a lot. For a start, you get to choose the trajectory of the ball at the start of each round/life, which is a minor but welcome addition, as it makes getting certain blocks slightly easier. The power-up system is also the total opposite of Arkanoid- icons will float on-screen from time to time, usually in a set pattern on each round, but you need to hit them with the ball, rather than grab them with the bat, to activate them. They also have refreshingly different effects than the pills in Arkanoid- grabbing a key adds a 'safe' wall to a corner of the board which gives the ball less room to fall down, grabbing the UFO gives you a double-bat (almost entirely useless, as getting the ball caught between the two often leads to death) and L-M-S blocks change the size of your ball. There's also two 'dud' items that Arkanoid didn't have- the rocket ship, which speeds the ball up dramatically and usually kills you, and the gremlin thing that grabs your ball, flies around with it for a bit, then drops it off somewhere. Not as much of a death sentence as the rocket ship, it's just very annoying as it takes its sweet time letting go.
So far, so good, right? Well...
The sad truth is this: Block Gal is designed to prevent the player's success at all costs.
There is absolutely no getting around this. The game is hell-bent on screwing you over at absolutely every opportunity, making sure you're as frustrated as possible throughout proceedings. Unlike Arkanoid, where there's at least a chance that you can slowly become better at it with practice, Block Gal is almost entirely up to luck, with everything working against you. Most notably, grabbing the items you need to get through each round in a timely and painless fashion (and avoiding the ones you don't want) is a total crap-shoot, because picking them up with the ball is a hell of a lot more frustrating than grabbing them with the bat- many times, you'll narrowly miss the heart item when you desperately need it, and more often, you'll see your ball heading towards the rocket item, fully aware that it'll cost you a life, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Combine this with the game's various other mechanical foibles, such as speeding the ball up suddenly after being in the same round for a short time, and busted ball physics that mean getting the damn thing to go where you want is impossible (to the point where I've seen it launch off the bat vertically which shouldn't happen), and what you have is a frustrating mess of a game, where it feels like you're beating your head against a brick wall just to make a sliver of progress. There's no enjoyment in conquering each stage, just a sense of relief... The only concession in your favour is that the round doesn't get reset if you continue, but that only encourages you to credit-feed.
Now, busted gameplay would be bad enough, but Block Gal ups its game with its wretched round design. Sure, there's only 20 of them, but they commit nearly every Arkanoid design sin imaginable. There's rounds with single blocks at the top of columns made out of indestructible blocks (a pretty big sin), blocks placed in really awkward places that take over 5 hits to destroy (a very big sin), the very idea of differently-coloured blocks that take up to 8 hits to destroy (probably a violation of the Geneva convention) and worst of all, the dreaded lever- a strange red thing at the top of certain rounds that sends your little ball careening back down to you if it so much as looks at the lever in a funny way. Naturally, the lever nestles itself on the ceiling of all the rounds where you don't need it. Specifically, you'll find it on all the rounds where getting the ball up to the top of the screen is extremely difficult, so the lever simply makes you do it all over again, or you'll miss it if you're lucky... Then you'll have to try it again, because the block you were trying to hit needs to be hit 5 more times. Gaaaah. These rounds are simply designed to annoy you, I swear! This nonsense drags the whole trainwreck on for longer than necessary, and every time I've tried to play the game after writing (most of) this article I've ended up shutting MAME down and punching a nearby wall.
So yes, Block Gal is a pretty hateful experience, all in all, an experience characterised by frustration and annoyance. It essentially takes Arkanoid, removes all the stuff that worked well in it (the pill power-ups, the enemies, the decent physics and round designs) and adds new concepts that don't work at all (blocks that take 5+ hits to destroy, rubbish power-up system, that bloody lever) but, sadly, also adds some interesting ideas too (the 'safe' blocks, choosing your trajectory at the start, multiple ball sizes). If someone would only take the good ideas the game has and put them in a decent Arkanoid clone, I'd play it! Sadly, it's bogged down by, well, everything else about it, and it would appear that the game would rather try and rely on its pictures (as quaint as it seems nowadays) to get people to play through to the end.
Take my advice- don't.
For trying to get away with using boobs in lieu of decent gameplay, Block Gal is awarded...
In a sentence, Block Gal is...
An informative guide on how not to clone Arkanoid.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Now here's an interesting tidbit- Shouichi Yoshikawa (also known as ANGELA and Nao Kuramoto) who was employed by Seibu Lease to work for VIC Tokai, not only has a personal website, but actually mentions Block Gal on his resume. Although he's not listed in the credits (despite having two pen-names) he offered 'planning support' and designed all three girls in the game. The section of his website dedicated to Block Gal isn't exactly robust, but it does have a fully-coloured version of the girl on the title screen (apparently called Miyuki) and even an animated version, just like on the title screen. On the Japanese version, there's also a page called 'Song' that apparently provides lyrics for one of the in-game songs... Well, we think.
Furthermore, there's an interview with Yoshikawa on GDRI where Block Gal gets mentioned briefly- he confirms the game was a VIC Tokai/Seibu Lease gig, and states he gave of the programmers the nickname Abunai-kun (Mr. Dangerous) because, to put it in his words, 'for the commercial version of Block Gal, the gals wore panties because of Sega's ethical regulations. But during production, [the girls] were pantsless, their private parts completely visible. (laughs)'.
Also, the banner for the strongest website in the world, Andore Jr., contains the title screen from Block Gal on a billboard.
(The banner also includes graphics from Mystic Warriors and Vigilante. Spot them all, win a prize.)
Block Gal - Title Screen
Block Gal - In-Game Theme 1
For some reason, the music of Block Gal is irritatingly catchy, and will probably stick with you longer than the actual experience of playing Block Gal itself. Unfortunately, because we are idiots, one of the two in-game themes won't play correctly when we try to record it, so rather than a full soundtrack, we've just ripped the two best songs- the title screen jingle and the better of the two in-game tunes. Enjoy?
Well, I'm glad that's over with. Playing Block Gal is actually physically painful, you know?!
Never has it been more appropriate to say HA HA HA OH GOD SO LONELY