Oh, here we go again! The eternal struggle, do we post the nudes or not? We have decided to stick with historical precedent on this one, and say no. While extreme violence and foul language is A-OK, we have a tendency to err on the side of caution when it comes to human flesh. Just like the ESRB, am I right? Thank you, I'll be here all week, try the fish. Additionally, while the main focus of our attention is on Pocket Gal- that is to say, the Japanese original- most of the screenshots you'll see are from Pocket Gal 2, for reasons sort-of elaborated upon a few seconds ago. Fortunately all the versions of the game are the same with only graphical differences, but all will be explained by the time you get to the end of this article. If you make it that far.
to enjoy Pocket Gal with no nudity, please play the Super Pool III version.
I think about Pocket Gal a lot.
Like, way more than you should think about a strip-centric pool game.
The story of the one time I saw it in an arcade might explain why.
Sometime in the 2000s, I lived in a place with no local arcades, so we'd often go to places by the seaside for a day to try and find the old arcade machines I craved so much. Mini arcade roadtrips, I suppose. In particular, I had a few relatives in Wales that, as a family, we'd visit every now and then. One time, on our way back we stopped off in a little town called Prestatyn, which had a large cafe and arcade right by the seafront, on the hunt for machines. The building didn't have a name, but I always called it The Warehouse, because it was just a huge building that you wouldn't have thought would be an arcade from the looks of it. That's where the pictures above are from, of course. From the first visit, The Warehouse become a place I'd go to as often as possible (as its neighbouring town, Rhyll, was also a seaside town with even more arcades) at least partly because it had a Metal Slug cabinet with my name on the high score table (even if it wasn't a great example, with a busted monitor, poor speakers, loose joystick and sticky buttons)... But it was also its rotating selection. The time between visits was quite long, so while some like S.T.U.N. Runner, Daytona USA and, for reasons I will never understand, Area 51 stayed until my last visit, others like Planet Harriers (!!), Neo Mr. Do! and X-Men only showed up for one or two trips.
Among these one-timers was Pocket Gal... The original, uncensored Japanese version.
Pocket Gal happened to be sat right next to my favourite machine there, Metal Slug.
The odd thing about Pocket Gal is that its attract mode doesn't sound very loud if you play it in MAME- it plays two very brief voice clips and there's general gameplay noises in there too, but that's it. The operators of this particular arcade must've had accidentally cranked the volume to maximum as this was almost the loudest game in the entire arcade for the few snippets of sound it'd actually blare out. Needless to say, being right next to this machine was a bit distracting, but so was the little peep-show on the title screen itself, where the bunny girl slowly loses her clothes until she's naked and covers herself, accompanied by a voice clip.
So my main memory of Pocket Gal is the damn thing distracting me during my high-score runs.
"What's the deal with this game next to me, is that bunny girl losing her clo- god-damnit, Morden's bombs got me again!"
(Pocket Gal was replaced by Time Crisis for the next visit- as seen in the photo- which is why I can recite that game's intro almost verbatim on request).
As a result, I developed this strange fascination with this game. Because the title was in Japanese, I had no idea what its actual name was, so when I got my head around MAME, among other things like discovering The Outfoxies and finally playing The Fairyland Story, one of my priorities was finding out what the hell that game was, with the only thing to go on being the developer, Data East. With the help of the incredibly-useful-but-now-deceased MAWS archive, I found it and finally solved a minor mystery of my time wasted in the arcades. Since then, I boot it up every now and then (just leaving the attract mode on for a moment) because while you'd be right to assume that most arcade games that have some kind of stripping element are mostly crap designed to rob you blind, Pocket Gal doesn't. It's actually genuinely good!
... So, we should probably talk about the game properly now, and it's a bit strange because it's incredibly similar to another Data East game! It probably won't surprise you to learn Pocket Gal is based pretty heavily on the 1985 release Side Pocket- in fact, the Japanese SNES and Mega Drive ports of Side Pocket (and the EU Mega Drive version) use the flyer art from Pocket Gal! We'll try and focus on Pocket Gal itself, but Side Pocket will be an important part of this game's development, so we'll get back to it. Now, as you might be able to tell, Pocket Gal is a video game adaptation of pool (not snooker, that's different), with stages alternating between a simple six-ball setup and a nine-ball one as you progress, and a score system based around potting balls in successive shots and getting them in the right number order. Admittedly, that's playing a little fast and loose with the rules of real pool, but it does make it more immediate for the arcade player. Speaking of, being an arcade game, it's got to boot you off sometime, so you have a limited number of shots to clear the table. Not potting a ball reduces your life meter, but pocketing one (or more) keeps it steady. There's a couple of ways to earn extra shots- pot a ball into a star-filled pocket, pull off the trick shots between stages, or bet your lives by potting the cue ball into a BET pocket, where you get one chance and hyper-physics applied to the remaining ball- but once they're all gone, it's game over.
From a mechanics point of view, Pocket Gal works really nicely. For a start, you have plenty of shot options- you can adjust where to hit the ball, allowing for curved shots, ones that control where the cue ball goes after making a shot and even jump/masse shots- and making a shot is as simple as pressing a button, then pressing again when the power meter's at the right point. Physics-wise, the game does a pretty good job, although if too many balls get hit at once (usually the opening break shot) then the game actually slows down to let the poor hardware figure out where they're all suppose to go. The physics can be a little on the exaggerated side, but this is the arcade after all, and they do the job (although watch out for any Super Balls, clearly indicated by the HUD, as they'll cause any ball they touch to fly across the table). The addition of star pockets and betting give you further incentive to learn how the other shot types work, and it has that feeling of satisfaction when you pull the perfect shot off. Where it excels is accessibility- it's very easy to pick up and play, and all the on-screen information is very clear, especially making shots (something it does much better than its contemporary, Konami's Rack 'Em Up/The Hustler, which looks quite impressive but is less easy/fun to play). As a result of this clarity, it can feel a little spartan in places presentation-wise- in fact, this game loses the player appearing on-screen to actually make shots from Side Pocket, replaced with a disembodied hand- but it does the job and isn't cluttered, and the music does its best to set the mood of a relaxed pool lounge, with the sun setting softly outside. Ah, it's a nice image, isn't it?
The first noticeable difference with Pocket Gal, of course, is that you're matching pool wits with ladies in different pool clubs, and to move on to the next stage, you have to beat their Champ Score. You don't actually play against them though, it's just you on the table. Once you do, you move on to the next club after your opponent strips. If you don't make it, you can keep playing (and your current gal loses a little clothing, but not all) but you'll be stuck with the same gal/music until you reach it. The catch is that you have to meet the Champ Score in one stage, so while your score can carry over from round to round, you still need to hit the Champ Score in one go, and continuing resets the score and basically scuppers your chances of victory. As a result, it can be a tough game- the target score for the first stage is very easy to reach for a new player (and the stage even has a 'Help' pocket that does most of the work for you if you're really struggling) but from the second stage onwards, you really have to get into the mindset of potting balls one after the other and in the correct order, too. What is nice, however, is that even if you fail, you can keep playing. Switching between six-ball and nine-ball can make it harder to reach the target, which does seem a little unfair but is the only way the game feels particularly unsporting. In any case, regarding the stripping parts, it's less central to the game than you'd imagine- it can definitely be filed under 'cute' rather than erotic, and there's no full-screen art or anything like that. Perhaps it's the art-style used, or the presentation (small sprites, no animation) but it feels less, for want of a better word, sleazy than the norm for strip arcade games. Additionally, playing one of the other versions (detailed below) keeps the women as opponents but eliminates the stripping, so there's that.
The other difference with Pocket Gal is that it's a much better game than Side Pocket, and is in fact a lot fairer in parts, which is strange when you consider the standard modus operandi for stripping-centric arcade games is to jab at the player's wallet as fast as possible. What seems to have happened, if arcade-history's dates can be trusted, is that these changes were implemented in the Famicom / NES port of Side Pocket, released in June 1987, then Pocket Gal came out in December that year, so the lessons learned from the home port were put to good use. To be specific, the bits of the NES Side Pocket reused here are that you get much more freedom with adding spins to your shots (including three levels of launch/masse shots), you get to see the numbers of the balls so you know which ones to pot in order for a post-stage bonus (Side Pocket had you relying on your knowledge of pool, so this is handy for those raised on snooker, i.e. me) and, crucially, missing a pot only takes half a life away as opposed to the full life you'd lose in Side Pocket. All these put together make for a less intimidating, although as noted still challenging, arcade pool game.
Finally, just to note, there's a neat two-player mode that's simply a best two-out-of-three for who can get the most points, but it works really well with the physics, and unlike the one-player game, you have no lives to worry about, just a 20-second time limit for each shot. This, too, is an improvement from Side Pocket, which still had both players limited by lives.
Overall, For what it is- a relatively loose adaptation of pool, designed specifically to work in an arcade, with optional stripping thrown in depending on version- Pocket Gal actually does a really good job! It's accessible with plenty of shot variations, everything's presented clearly and what little aesthetic flair there works in its favour, and by playing one of the variations you can remove the stripping element of the game entirely should you so desire. It's also a very interesting example of a game slowly being worked upon and improved- from Side Pocket came the improved Famicom/NES port, which lead to the further-improved Pocket Gal (and, as we'll see in a moment, it didn't stop there). Admittedly, while I try my best to avoid it there is perhaps a little nostalgia going on here for me specifically- and only me specifically, unless someone else went to that arcade for the Metal Slug machine and had the same experience- but I genuinely think if you want to give a video-based pool game a quick bash, Pocket Gal is actually a solid choice, as unlikely as it seems. Besides, it's Data East, and they always try their best, don't they?
For being a sports game I actually like, Pocket Gal is awarded...
In a sentence, Pocket Gal is...
Better than you'd think.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Now is as good a time as any to talk about the three different versions of Pocket Gal.
The original Japanese release is the one we saw in that arcade all those years ago, and is as described- the little bunny girl loses her clothes on the title screen, and your opponents strip after you clear a stage. However, there is also an English version of the game... Confusingly titled Pocket Gal 2, and released two years later in 1989. This version translates the text the girls say between rounds, but is still intact, stripping and all. This is pretty surprising, all things considered, as it's the last game you'd imagine would get an official translation! The only other changes, as far as I'm aware, see are that the 'NICE' and 'HURRY UP' messages that appear in the opponent window during play use different graphics in the English version.
Weirdly, there's also a version of Pocket Gal 2 in Japanese. For some reason.
There's more! There is a third version, also in English, also released in 1989 that retitles the game Super Pool III (yep, switching to Roman numerals for apparently no reason whatsoever) and is identical to Pocket Gal 2 (i.e. it's in English) but the game is now cleaned up. The bunny girl has been excised from the title screen, and there's no more stripping of any kind- even the half-strip variations- upon clearing a stage. If you'd like to play the game but could do without the nudity, then this is the way to go, and the dialogue's still in English too so you won't be lost. Not that there's any plot, but it's nice to know, isn't it?
... Oh, and one more thing! There's a bootleg attributed to Yada East (the Yada presumably being taken from the soundbite in the attract mode).
Now, Side Pocket went on to have a few sequels and ports on home consoles, but what about Pocket Gal?
It had its own arcade sequel in the form of Pocket Gal Deluxe
... Except it kinda isn't Pocket Gal. This is where it gets really confusing, so stay with me. Released in 1993 (if arcade-history is to be believed), Pocket Gal Deluxe is pretty much Pocket Gal but on better hardware. There are some other differences though- you now select a woman to unlock increasingly-revealing pictures of as you clear stages, the art style is much more realistic as opposed to the cartoony style of the original, and you now get to select the size of your pointer. There's also no slowdown when you hit multiple balls at once, but that's about it. I'm not as keen on this version, to be honest, simply because the aesthetics are a bit more 'real' and it loses that vaguely innocent charm the original had... But if you like the visual style of the later home-based Side Pocket games, this is much closer to that, with the club lounge feel more up-front.
There's a reason it feels more like Side Pocket, and this is where the confusion comes in. Obviously, there were a few home versions of Side Pocket, including ports to the Game Gear and NES, but the ones we're focusing on are the Side Pockets- or at least games claiming to be Side Pocket- released for the Mega Drive in 1992 and the SNES in 1994... And they're very, very similar to Pocket Gal Deluxe. The Mega Drive version more-so, as it actually uses the same music, but while there's different game modes, no revealing pictures and a map between stages, presentation-wise it's almost the same damn thing, as you can see above. Now, if arcade-history is right, and Pocket Gal Deluxe was actually released in 1993, that means the home-based Side Pocket actually came first. It's a pseudo-backwards-renamed port back to the arcades! Seriously, this kind of high-level game history blows me away when I actually find out about it first hand. This was where half the work went into this damn article, checking all the bloody ports of Side Pocket! The development of Side Pocket and Pocket Gal is very intertwined, no?
Pocket Gal Deluxe got bootlegged too- this time attributed to Data West. Presumably not that Data West.
Incidentally... It was only a year or two before writing this article that I finally stopped visiting Prestatyn and Rhyll.
I could stand to see Lucky & Wild, Starblade and Dynablaster disappear, but when Metal Slug went, I had to let go.
THIS ARCADE STORY IS BAD END ;_;