Arcadia: get your game face on!

By on June 30, 2008

Photo © Elena Derevstova

Has fun in the sun become a bit too wild for you, given the rough Tokyo climate? Take advantage of Japan’s exceptional technology, and let video games remedy that. Sure, getting really into an intense game will heat things up again–but at least you can play under an air conditioner!


Kicking back with a trendy new video game console in hand is a popular pastime of kids and adults all over the world. With wii dominating the living room and the summer release of Grand Theft Auto 4 for the older gamers camped out in their bedrooms, home entertainment seems to have got all the bases covered. However, an alternative gaming experience can be had in one of Japan’s deafening arcades. 


Local arcades greet the gamer with a cluster of claw vending machines by their fancy double-door entrances, more often than not surrounded by teenage girls gleefully squeaking, “Kawaii!” (a popular Japanese phrase for “That’s cute!”) over all the stuffed toys on display. These machines may be well-known abroad, but their Japanese counterparts–“UFO Catchers”–are more intricate to play, with two mere handles attached to each base for picking stuff up. There are also variations to the game that introduce new ways to play: pushing toys into the winning chute is the aim of some, while others are based on roulette and raffles. The prizes are worth the challenge, too: in addition to cartoon dolls and keychains, the assortment of loot ranges from Chupa Chups to Sony PSPs. How’s that for diversity?


Found in most Japanese game centers are brightly colored photo booths, beckoning customers with high-pitched cartoon voices. Friends and family flock behind the curtains to have their picture taken. Since its creation in 1995, the Purikura (short for “Print Club”) has created a phenomenon that continues to be prominent in Japanese teenage culture, and the craze has since spread throughout Asia. With these machines, users are given the options to decorate their images with snazzy clip art, select from a collection of nifty frames and color schemes, and even customize them with self-drawn graffiti. Best of all, the photographs are printed in the form of stickers, allowing them to be placed on diaries, cell phones, and wallets; many create scrapbooks with their collection of Purikura images. If you’d rather share these photos with your buddies online, two new machines – Recipe of Goddess 3 and Rich and Beauty (I love funky Japanese titles) –allow you to download JPEGs straight to your phone via infrared, making it easier to upload them onto your MySpace, Facebook, or Flickr. All the more reason to add “kawaii” to your vocabulary!


At the heart of each arcade are video games galore. It should come as no surprise to the visitor that each game is presented in crystal clear resolution with a state of the art sound system. Equipped with all the latest installments of the hottest game franchises, catering to every type of player. Racing and fighting collections such as the Tekken and Initial D series are a given, as are sports and dance-related ones. Long gone are the days of Donkey Kong and Pac man, innovation is the name of the game. New machines present unique forms of gameplay: typing words correctly on a keyboard to destroy zombies, shaking maracas or tambourines in certain directions to plow through difficulty levels, and even walking virtual dogs on treadmills. 


Recently the big arcade companies, Sega and Namco Bandai announced closures around Japan. To curb this decline, they have been forced to rethink their core direction; creating games for different types of players who don’t know their joystick from their cheat sheet (guilty as charged). Machine guns now co-exist with soft mallets, dancers gyrate on the spot next to rally drivers tackling a chicane and collectible cards are given out as prizes, offering a new gaming experience.


This summer as parental concern mounts over video game censorship, arcades are going for the soft option. Multi action, multi player, multi fun games for all the family. Get your game face on and head for the arcade – PARENTAL WARNING: Don’t forget your earplugs!

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