The death of the American arcade has long been lamented, but that's not the case in Japan. Granted, the focus has shifted a bit — there are fewer video games than before, making room for pachinko, purikura, crane games, and so on. And some notable locations have been forced to close their doors in recent years. But there's still a vibrant community around the arcade, known as "game center" in Japanese, and enough paying customers for there to justify a giant trade show in the cavernous Makuhari Messe center devoted to new machines.
That's what JAEPO — the Japan Amusement Expo — is, and that's how I spent my Friday. As you might expect, it was a whole lot of fun, and a much-needed reminder of why I love arcades so much.
By a cruel twist of fate, JAEPO 2016 is being held the same week as an event that could be seen as a harbinger of a dark future for the industry. Street Fighter V came out worldwide this week, and I've liked my time with it, but I can't help feeling a little sad that it's the first major game in the series not to see release in the arcades first. I moved to Japan right around the time Street Fighter IV hit arcades for the first time, and I have fond memories of getting repeatedly beaten by total strangers while being excited to play a game that you couldn't play anywhere else.
But who needs Street Fighter? JAEPO has amazing rhythm games, bizarre fishing simulators, cutting-edge photo booths, and tons of Neko Atsume toys. That's pretty much what you'll find in actual Japanese arcades these days as well, save for the smoky floor where hardcore fighting and shooting game enthusiasts hang out. And as long as that stays the case, Japanese game centers will continue to be an awesome place to be.
If you're reading this story today, February 19th, follow "verge" on Snapchat and watch my story for more video and photos from JAEPO 2016. (And more great stuff in the future, of course.)
- The biggest news of the show is the announcement of two new rhythm games from Konami, the company that more or less codified the genre in the '90s with classic series like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution. The one you see here and in the top image is Otoiroha, which requires you to slide triangular discs up in a circular motion as well as dealing with the buttons below the screen.
- Konami's other big title of the show is Nostalgia, a piano-based rhythm game.
- You just can't go to a trade show these days without bumping into a stormtrooper. This one was here to protect Bandai Namco's Star Wars: Battle Pod.
- Battle Pod is kind of a throwback to the famous original Star Wars arcade game — the one with vector graphics and a Death Star trench run. The game is simple and fun, though the Rebels' Yavin moon base got destroyed after my co-op partner missed her final missile shot. Han Solo said something to the effect of "Never mind — the Empire will fall someday," which is a somewhat underwhelming alternate ending.
- Remember when games used to come out first in the arcade, and you'd have to wait forever for a home version? Well, Tekken 7 is the biggest recent game to see initial release in the Japanese arcades — it came out last summer, with an upcoming PS4 version TBA.
- This is the latest version of Namco's cartoon light gun shooter, Point Blank. It is pretty much identical to the 1994 original.
- I really don't know what's happening with this webcam-powered Disney game.
- Sega's Chunithm is awesome. You touch the "ground slider" in various patterns to match the beat, but you also have to play some notes by moving your hands through the air (detected by the green sensor on the sides). When you play a series of notes that ends with a pull-off into the air, you feel like an ostentatious concert pianist playing with excessive flourish. It's pretty great.
- The slider lights up as you touch it, and the effect carries through to the main screen.
- Bandai Namco's Fishing Spirits is maybe the best use yet for original Microsoft Surface-style tables — stick two together, add a bunch of rod-shaped motion controllers, and pretend you're going rock fishing.
- Sanwa is a legendary company in the fighting game community for its high-quality range of parts for arcade sticks and machines. A huge variety is on show at JAEPO.
- Taito's Groove Coaster is interesting because it started out as an iPhone game before moving to the arcade.
- The iOS original's simple tap-and-swipe controls are replicated here with an ultra-simple single-button joystick.
- Sometimes video games just aren't tangible enough, so I was pretty into this game, Tako Tako Panic. You have to shoot actual balls through the octopus' rings.
- Crane games, or "UFO catchers" as they're usually known here, tend to dominate the first floor of most arcades.
- Purikura, "print club" photo booths that let you edit and draw on your photos before printing them as stickers, also often get a whole floor to themselves. This Hikari model is said to be a "new generation," so of course I had to try it.
- It's very 2001 inside.
- After your photos are taken, you go to another section of the booth to edit. My eyes aren't usually this big.
- Drawing directly on the photos is pretty fun, though.
- And here are the gorgeous results.
- For reasons beyond me, virtual horse betting games like this are popular enough for many arcades to devote huge amounts of floor space to them.
- This strategy game, Wonderland Wars from Sega, has an unusual control system — you grip the sphere with one hand to use an analog stick and button, and hold a stylus in your other.
- Since JAEPO is a trade show, there are also exhibitors that just want to show crane game sellers the things that they can actually put in their crane games. Like this zombie cat, for instance.
- There was a lot of Neko Atsume stuff.
- Like this neko pyramid.
- Okay, here's some more.