This game is genius if not a little old, and at the detriment of the rest of the modern world, is only available here in Japan. If you can’t tell from the picture above (taken at one of my my local video arcades), this is a game in which you assume the role of a Japanese train driver on the Enoden Line and several other tourist lines located along the Enoshima beach area near Kamakura (outside Tokyo to the South West). These lines are famous for having old-style engines and carriages and tend to travel along the coast or through densely built-up areas of traditional Japanese housing, as well as stopping at some of the famous sightseeing spots in the area.
Your mission is to uphold the perfectionist ethos of the entire Japanese train network in general by driving the train observing signals and speed regulations and of course arriving at the stations at the exact designated times, plus/minus 4 or 5 seconds to avoid picking up penalties and thus maximizing your score. Penalties are also incurred for braking too sharply (causing the passengers annoyance) or for forgetting to trigger the announcements, and so on. You also have to open the doors having perfectly lined them up with the markers on the platform. Again, inaccuracy will get you in trouble and cost you points (possibly even resulting in a Game Over if you really mess up). The controls are supposed to closely mimic those of the actual trains in real life, so if the driver were to have a heart attack on the Enoden line, rather than hurtling through stations and ending up in a high speed collision, you could probably find a train geek somewhere on board capable of rescuing everyone in a smooth, controlled and orderly manner; as this is only one of a whole series of games totalling almost 30 different versions found in arcades, on Windows PC and on PS2, and is extremely popular here in Japan.
As a special bonus, here is a YouTube video of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) version:
Moving out to my new neighbourhood means I’m just a little bit further from popular west-side areas like Shibuya and Naka-Meguro, but even in anonymous areas like Nishi-Kasai you can still uncover some interesting places. Take for example my local video game arcade which appears to be a huge rusting armour-clad fortress. The cliche is completed using the font that Hollywood murdered: Bank Gothic. Regardless, this is a BIG video arcade!
You just don’t get the planning permission to build stuff like this in other cities. It reminds me of what one travel writer said about Tokyo. They said “Tokyo is a city devoid of beauty”. They were exaggerating of course, but in the classic sense it’s true to some extent. You can visit any city in the world and see far more historic buildings and monuments, and you certainly wouldn’t see anything as outlandish as this. But, for some people this surreal image of the future in a city akin to a giant, sprawling theme park is far more appealing. I got more satisfaction from visiting Nakagin Capsule Tower than I did visiting any temple or shrine in the city. For me the real cultural landmarks are ones such as these. Giant robot statues, opulent shopping centres, and bright neon hoardings.
Yes, Uniqlo’s retro game T-shirts have been out for a while but the preliminary selection didn’t contain anything I really wanted to buy. When I heard they were coming out, I decided I might get the Galaxian one, but the design wasn’t so great I thought. Nostalgic T-shirt lovers now have a load more to choose from though, in the form of Uniqlo’s second wave of game tees. If I could just direct your attention to the Hadouken long sleeve, and, see that Metallica inspired number? Ghosts and Goblins! (The print says ‘Makaimura’, which means demon world village as the Japanese title for the game.) Thank you Uniqlo, and thank you Japan! If you want one of these, let me know in the comments thread. I just might run a few on eBay for those not lucky enough to get to a Japanese Uniqlo store anytime soon.
I’ve been playing a new incarnation of an old favourite recently, the last in the series from SNK actually. Samurai Shodown V Special is the best in the entire series. You’ve got most of the best characters, plus many new ones, with additional special moves and additional techniques. In this game, you can go into Rage mode, or you can exchange your anger for ‘concentration’ by meditating in order to, at a certain time, go into Concentration One mode, where all of your enemy’s moves take place in slow motion, whereas everything you do is normal speed. This enables you to land about 10 strikes on him while he’s still drawing his sword, as well as move behind your enemy and slay him before he has time to turn around. There are many more cool features, too many to list, and it’s a pixel-art masterpiece – every frame of every sprite. As icing, Yuki and SNK Playmore added Suicides and Fatalities. If you know how, you should play it (but not if you want to be productive at any time in the near future). Oh, and get the uncensored version. That way you can see people getting sliced in half, beheaded or spraying fountains of blood.
Did you know there was such thing as a U.F.O Catcher expert? Well, apparently there is, and in these videos via Japan Probe, they show some special techniques in acquiring prizes from these usually frustrating video arcade attractions! I thought it would be relevant as I mentioned the U.F.O. catchers in my recent post about my hunt for Street Fighter IV in the game centres of Akihabara.
Here’s a link to a Japanese site offering a wide selection of retro game-related fonts, mostly bitmap fonts. As you can see, they have the classic Capcom typefaces! I can never find anything to do with these fonts once I’ve downloaded them, but I’m not going to let that discourage me. I’ll install them anyway!
As promised, I hit the streets of Tokyo to find a video arcade that had the new Street Fighter 4. The obvious choice of starting place was Akihabara, or Electric Town as it is also known, a mecca of otaku culture bristling with pachinko parlours (パチンコ店 / パチンコ屋) and video arcades (ゲームセンター) as well as, of course, the myriad consumer electronics stores.
I first arrived at Taito Station, the most likely place to find the newly released machines.
This place has 6 floors of gaming with a different type of machine on each. On the ground floor (known as the 1st floor in Japan) they had the UFO catchers, and on the floor above they had the photo sticker machines (プリクラ / プリント倶楽部), and above that the dance and music games, and so on.
On the ground floor though, they also had a floor guide at the foot of the escalator.
So it wasn’t difficult to find (thankfully I knew the location of this flagship game centre because I had been here before). I made my way through the building via two escalators and an elevator from the 3rd floor to reach the 5th, which is easily my favourite floor because it has all the beat-em-ups.
So here they were. A bank of 8 newly released SFIV cabinets.
It wasn’t busy because it was in business hours, but there were a few guys in suits on the far side and a couple of guys on my side. The Japanese cabinets only accommodate 1 player per machine, but if a player starts a game on the machine opposite yours, you have to fight against each other in 2 player versus mode! This is a great idea as you can have way more 2 player battles, and against complete strangers. I gave someone the Ken treatment and I could see him out of the corner of my eye afterwards, peering around the machines to get a look at who beat him. This adds a new kind of dynamic to the whole idea of arcade games, and I like it! 2 player bouts are always more enjoyable than fighting the CPU.
The characters were cleared easily, but the end of game boss, Seth, ate a couple of credits. I gave up after that and went home. I wasn’t about to waste any more money, so I made my way back downstairs to the front of the arcade.
Outside, I found this interesting machine facing out onto the street.
This is Taito’s Space Invaders 30th anniversary novelty called ‘The Happy Button’. The idea comes from the playing style adopted by most players of space invaders, one of the few games to feature backing music consisting of only 3 notes, which is to pound the fire button constantly in the hope of hitting an invader. All you have to do is press start and you get the countdown 3,2,1 before you have 10 seconds to hit the button as often as possible. I gave it my best Track n’ Field vibro-arm and got a pretty poor 81 presses. Such a simple idea, but it’s hearing the legendary missile sound FX again that makes it all worth while. After two worse attempts, I cycled home.
In other game news, the release date for the XBox 360, PS3 and PC version of the newest installment of Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise looms very close indeed. If you want to get a copy in the US and the UK, you should visit your local retailer on the 17th February – just over 1 month away!
As for the arcade release, this definitely won’t happen in the US, and I don’t think it will happen in the UK. By my calculations, it should be out in Japanese game arcades already, but only just. Don’t worry, I’m off to Akihabara as soon as I finish my work for the day – I’ll let you know what it’s like (Akihabara is a short bike ride from my apartment in Taito).
Doosh! Found Super Potato as planned. It’s amazing, but if you want to pick up some archaic silicon, you’d better be packing a full wallet (Japan, being a cash culture, is a place where shops don’t often accept credit cards). That said, you can just as easily treat it like a museum. They have every console I can remember with a seemingly hand-picked selection of all the best and rarest games for them. They also stock a massive range of game soundtracks, including 8-bit, that they play in the shop, and broadcast outside the shop to guide you in. My new favourite hangout though is up on the top floor. A smokey room full of arcade machines, cocktail tables, a life-sized model of Snake from Metal Gear Solid, and some one-armed bandits. The machines are by Tecmo, and alow you to select any game from the extensive library stored within. A bit like MAME, I guess. Thinking about it, they probably are using MAME; I can’t see how else those machines could work. It was also funny how the natives watched my screen out of the corners of their eyes as I started to play X-Men vs Street Fighter, and were shocked when I started stringing combos up. Didn’t they know we imported this stuff into England since the 70’s? As I remember it, Cornwall was where I played the most arcade machines. Back then I didn’t realise that all the good stuff came from Japan.