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Japanese arcades aren't dead, and here's why

JAEPO 2016 shows the future of arcade tech

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.)

a day out at JAEPO (japan amusement expo)

A video posted by sam byford (@345triangle) on

JAEPO 2016 photos


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.