Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2017

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Invader Spotted in Omotesando

I spotted this piece of street art by French artist Invader whilst I was out for a walk down Cat Street in Omotesando (if you’ve never been down there before it’s well worth a look with its custom made bicycle shop and good non-luxury brand fashion stores). Invader basically puts up these mosaics featuring retro video game sprites, particularly those from space shooters but he’s also done Pac-Man ghosts. I like his stuff and it’s not particularly common to see it so I thought I’d post this up for us all to enjoy, although nothing beats the real thing when you come across one or happen to notice it. That’s the great thing about good street art in my opinion: you never know when you’re going to come across one and when you do half of the satisfaction comes from finding it and half from knowing its origin. Invader has stuff in cities all over the world including Paris, London, L.A. and probably many others and you can see him at work in Banksy’s mockumentary Exit Through The Gift Shop.

 

Ganbare Untenshi!!

Ganbare Untenshi

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:

 

Ghibli Game, Ni No Kuni

Ghibli Game, Ni no Kuni

Ghibli are working on a video game. I still don’t own a Wii or a PS3, but then something always comes along that tempts me to buy one, like this game for instance, Ni no Kuni (Second Land). It appears to be an RPG in which Studio Ghibli (responsible for the animated movies Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) are in charge of the character, world design, background artwork and storyline, and possibly even the gameplay too. If you thought that was a good idea, you’ve also got the legendary Joe Hisaishi composing the musical score. Game development is by Level 5 and it will be available in 2011 on both the Nintendo DS and the Playstation 3. See the trailers for more details, you really have to see it.

 

iPhone Castlevania Encore of the Night

iPhone Castlevania Encore of the Night

If you’ve played the original PS1 version of this game, you have to get this iPhone version! It’s based on the cult Konami classic Castlevania – Symphony of the Night, famous for its musical score (hence the title). This new iPhone version is actually a puzzle-based RPG, unlike the original which was an action RPG platform game, but it still retains the original music! I was going to play this game whilst travelling on the Tokyo Metro, but I ended up playing it at every opportunity, as should you.
Download Castlevania Encore of the Night from the App Store

 

Warehouse Game Centre

Warehouse Game Centre

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.

 

Pixeljam Update

Pixeljam's Cream Wolf

The mighty indy game devs Pixeljam, those who brought you Dino Run and Gamma Bros., are back with a new website, new games and some forthcoming project news. You can already experience the hilarious Cream Wolf and Mountain Maniac as well as some other new offerings, but check out Glorkian Warrior, currently under development.

 

Wii Punch Out!

Wii Punch Out

I’ve got a Wii at home now, so I really want to get my hands on this game. I used to love it on the SNES/Famicom, and now it’s come to Nintendo’s newest home system and it looks even better, plus you’ve got the nunchucks and Wii-remote to use to throw your punches. Ding-ding!

 

Uniqlo Retro Game T-Shirts – Final Collection

Uniqlo Retro Game T-Shirts

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.

 

Sinister Independent Games: Mondo Agency

Mondo Agency

And, on the very same day, I found this. A twisted, retro sci-fi first person shooter that seems to have been inspired by early David Lynch. Now this is worth checking out, just to hear square-head’s surreal monologues. The game is called Mondo Agency and it’s developed by a guy called Cactus. Unfortunately (for me), there’s only a PC build, and no Mac version. I ran it under Parallels but it ran pretty badly. I enjoyed watching the YouTube clips more.

 

Sinister Independent Games: Judith

Judith

After discovering some interesting independent games recently, I wanted to post about them here so people can have a look for themselves. This first game is a collaboration between distractionware and increpare, two game artists who have created an interactive narrative game for Mac and PC (and now Linux too). I don’t want to spoil anything, so just try it for yourself. It’s a dark affair, made to feel only more so by the dreary colour palette, haunting sound, and nostalgically low-res aesthetics. Games as art?

UPDATE: Don’t Look Back is also worth checking out on the distractionware site.

 

Nintendo DSi Get!

Nintendo DSi Get!

OK, I finally got my new DSi in black. I checked out the white one, but it soon looks dirty due to the fact that it’s a handheld and you’re constantly toting it around in your bag, pocket, etc. I was really amazed by it. I can really appreciate the hours that have gone into the UI and interaction design. The graphics will never be as good as on the PSP, but I bought this to help me study on the train. I’m using Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun (lit: Correct Chinese Characters Little Writing Bird), which is designed for school kids to use to brush-up their Kanji. It’s therefore about the right level for me, so I use it on the train on the way to work. You use the pen device to draw Kanji on the touchscreen and it has a built-in recognition system that enables it to gauge the quality of your Kanji writing. It also has meaning and reading practice. The next game I buy will be Devil Survivor.

 

U.F.O Catcher Secrets Revealed!

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.

 

Kendama

Kendama

Before I returned home to the UK for christmas, I went shopping in my neighbourhood of Kotobuki for Christmas presents. My neighbourhood is famous for, amongst other things, toy companies and toyshops. You can see the famous Bandai HQ from my balcony. As it was, most of the presents I bought turned out to be Japanese toys. The best thing I bought turned out to be a Kendama, which is a traditional Japanese ball and string game with a body of wood shaped like a hammer on which you can balance the ball on 3 points, as well as a spike on top, which you can also get the ball onto (if you’re extremely good). You start with the ball hanging on the length of string and then you jerk it up and catch it on one of the cups on the hammer. You can then flick it up again and rotate the hammer to switch to a different cup, then the spike and so on. You can make up your own combinations, and even balance the ball on other parts of the hammer, like the angle of the cross formed by the intersecting pieces of wood. Modern kendama experts have gone even further than this, and switch between holding the ball and catching the hammer to visa versa and so on – even doing tricks where you swing the ball and hammer simultaneously like nunchaku, then catch the ball or hammer in differnet ways. So now I’m in training to become a more competent Kendama slinger. Check out the pros on YouTube.

 

(Not So) New Super Mario Bros.

New Super Mario Bros.

I don’t know how I missed this, but there’s a new Super Mario Bros. game out for the DS. I’ve been thinking about getting a DS ever since I arrived in Tokyo, but always found something else to spend my money on. Really though, the Nintendo DS seems to be an integral part of most Japanese people’s daily lives, so not owning one here in Tokyo would be like living in Beijing and not owning a bicycle. Now the Nintendo DSi has come out here, complete with built in camera, I’m even more compelled to get one. You can pretend to be playing Final Fantasy whilst taking pictures of a sleeping salaryman on the train.

 

Japanese Mascot Soccer Game Death Match

This is a pretty funny clip via Japan Probe, that shows a section from the Japanese show TV Champion, where mascots from all over Japan take part in a battle for supremacy. In this round, they go head to head in a soccer match to the death.