Arcades are still a common sight in Japan, where you can find new games still being released exclusively for arcades, many of which rarely if ever see an international release. If you enjoy playing video games, it’s worth visiting some of these arcades to take part in this unique way of playing. We’ve been to some of Japan’s most famous arcades, and played all kinds of fun and interesting games. We’d like to show you some of the strangest games we found, both in how they play and the kind of subject matter found in them.
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A popular genre for arcade games are “beat-em-ups”, where players can team up to fight large groups of enemies. While most beat-em-ups involve players tanking on organizations like gangs and fantasy creatures, Ninja Baseball Bat Man, known in Japan as Yakyū Kakutō Rīgu Man, puts a fun spin on the genre. Released in 1993, the game sees players take on the role of baseball-themed ninjas traveling across the United States to recover stolen artifacts from the Baseball Hall of Fame. This premise is as silly as it sounds, with players fighting everything from airplanes to aggressive playing cards. Players can try out a variety of playstyle and perform crazy special moves like lightning storms and ocean waves, helping even the odds with the wacky, cartoony enemies. If you’re looking for a game with fun and interesting Japanese character designs, Ninja Baseball Bat Man is a great time to have with your friends at an arcade.
One of the most famous shooter series in Japan is Darius, a futuristic setting where the player takes flight against a massive empire of sealife-themed spaceships. What’s unique about this series is how the games are presented; the first two Darius games released in arcades with a unique, three monitor setup utilizing mirrors for smooth scrolling. The resulting effect is a large screen where your eyes are constantly darting over it as you scramble to stay alive.
In 2010 this experience was expanded upon with the release of Dariusburst: Another Chronicle, a modern arcade release that truly immerses players in the Darius experience by bringing back the widescreen presentation and designing the cabinets after large box-like cockpits. Up to four players can fit into these cockpits to play, and what follows is a frantic and fun experience. The highlight of my play sessions had to be the boss battles, which are introduced with a loud warning siren
An unusual advance in sports games, Footista 2019 sees the player collect cards that they use to interact with the game in order to win football games. Players don’t directly participate in the game, but rather act like a coach-style character, organizing the virtual players and training to improve them. This is an interesting style of arcade game where RPG and tactical gameplay is reconciled with the small payment of arcade games by distributing IC cards to players. This game might be challenging for a newcomer to pick up, but is an interesting look at a developing area of arcade games.
Music games are a relatively new genre in arcade games, only coming into popularity in the late 90s. They’ve since become a mainstay in arcades, with various game styles being released and titles like Dance Dance Revolution being known across the world. Music games are a popular destination in arcades, attracting all ages and genders in competing for skills and scores, but one the most interesting game we observed was Jubeat, where players play along to music on a large cuboid touchscreen. By keeping the display to such a small area, Jubeat can keep the gameplay accessible for newcomers while also being able to batter experienced players with a higher difficulty. For a novel, fun foray into music games, Jubeat is an easy, accessible destination found at most arcades.
As arcade games were still expanding during the 1980s, many games experimented with a variety of control methods in how they wanted to give players a fun experience. Released in 1985, Space Harrier was a wild fantasy adventure in which the player took control with a flight joystick. This method of control became common for vehicle-themed games, but the subject matter of Space Harrier made it a novel experience which made the controls feel even more extreme. You control Harrier, a man carrying a laser cannon who much try to destroy as much of the onscreen obstacles as he can as the player travels through over a dozen stages. The challenge gradually increases as the screen is filled with both obstacles of rocks and foliage and returning fire from the game’s roster of enemies, which track the player’s current position, requiring them to move around constantly to stay alive. The resulting experience is a frantic struggle with the joystick as the player is seated in a less-than ideal position on the arcade cabinet. The following years would see Space Harrier ported to a variety of platforms allowing for a more comfortable playing experience, but they can’t quite match the feeling of wrestling with the controls on the original arcade cabinet.
Starwing Paradox is a very recent release, coming out in November 2018. It’s also a very ambitious game, featuring not only animated cutscenes with characters designed by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, but massive cockpit-style setups with an impressive range of controls. This games sees players take control of massive mechas and flying around in a large 3D field participating in large multiplayer battles. Players can customize their mech and even earn new ones by playing the game during special promotion periods. When you step into Starwing Paradox, you really feel like you’re sitting in the midst of a futuristic cockpit, as the seat pitches forward and backwards in response to your game actions and the control joysticks skillfully communicating the feeling of firing an immense arsenal. Don’t miss this massive new arcade game if you get the chance to visit a Japanese arcade.
What did you think of these games? Are there any strange games that you’ve seen or heard of that you think should be shared? Japan’s arcades are still a vibrant industry drawing in many players, and the variety of games and experiences you can find in these places show how much of an impact these spaces still have on people.