On Exploring Japanese Arcades

September 12, 2019

Written by Jamie Galea

I love exploring Japan. It’s a country that’s absolutely perfect for tourism – the people are friendly, food and drink is affordable, public transport is amazing and so much more. But it’s also an amazing country if you like video games, not just because it’s the spiritual home of the medium, but because it’s one of the few places in the world where arcades (or Game Centres) are still common place.

There’s always been something about arcade games that fascinates me. Not just in terms of designing a game that is meant to eat your money, but because you’re designing around hardware and gimmicks that only one or a handful of machines can actually run. Emulation doesn’t do these games justice either, you really need to be at a machine to get the most out of it.

Arcades as known in Japan them don’t really exist in Australia, where it’s impossible to find the arcades that people around my age would know. While barcades like Pixel Alley or Bartronica are keeping the spirit alive, the biggest arcades in the country are designed around ticket machines or more approachable machines, which is far from exciting or interesting. It’s kinda depressing walking into a Timezone or a B. Lucky & Sons and it’s not quite what I’m after. While there are certainly plenty of games and floors dedicated to less traditional games in Japan, there’s always a good balance so that there’s something for everyone.

Part of why I dedicate far too many hours searching for arcades in Japan is the feeling of discovery. While there’s an element in predictability in terms of what you’ll find in some of the bigger places and chains, it’s going to the smaller or independently owned arcades that bring the best surprises. The sensation of walking into an arcade and seeing a machine you haven’t played and being quite surprised is a hell of a feeling.

It’s something I realized when walking into Game Centre Mikado in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba neighbourhood for the first time in 2016. It’s two floors – one dedicated to a selection of fantastic fighting games, another dedicated to shooters, racing games and a variety of others. While it was great to play OutRun and Space Harrier with their full motion setups, the real surprise was seeing an honest to god Daytona USA cabinet.

You can hear this image.

This might not seem like a big deal, but some context will help. Daytona USA can be seen in many places all around Australia: suburban fish & chip shops, cinema lobbies, train stations; it’s by far and away the most ubiquitous arcade machine you’ll find in Australia. It’s a different story in Japan. Even in some of the more retro oriented arcades across the country, Daytona USA is a rare find, so you can imagine my actual surprise to see a familiar machine in a not so familiar place.

As you’re reading this, I’ll be in Japan with some of the New Game Plus crew for Tokyo Game Show, and part of my plan is to check out some more arcades. I’m already planning to check out the recently opened Mikado location in Ikebukuro, and seeing what that’s all about, but also Back To The Arcade, a Game Centre that describes itself as more of a gallery of arcade games than a traditional arcade. Among their offerings is something even rarer than a Daytona USA cabinet, a Daytona USA 2 cabinet.

Or knowing me, I’ll probably be eating too much of the good food and drinking too much of the good drink to get around to it. Either way, it’s going to be a good time in the arcade.

When he’s not spending all his money on salty Tekken 7 rematches, Jamie can be reached at @jamiemgalea on Twitter and most other social platforms.

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