European Amusement and Gaming Expo 2010

EAG logo

Last year, our very own Fran went to ATEI (The Amusement Trades ExhIbition) with yours truly in tow to sample the delights of coin-op paradise at London’s Earls Court. ATEI had a plethora of freeplay arcade machines and was a show technically for industry professionals and press only. However, things were slightly different this year, ATEI becoming a bigger part of the International Gaming Expo, a show focusing primarily on gambling machines and their assorted paraphernalia. For arcade afficionados though, not all hope was lost as the European Amusement and Gaming Expo sprang up to fill the hole, showcasing all kinds of coin-op entertainment from standard games to machines that rewarded the player with strings of tickets, to UFO catchers to stalls displaying samples of toys to put in them. For arcade gamers, it was a paradise with all of the machines being free play and all of those running the stalls only happy to let everyone pretty much run riot and blow up each others’ tanks (more on this later).

EAG Expo was kept pretty quiet, so it was only through chance and a good tip that I found out about it and abandoned ATEI for more productive pastures. EAG Expo had respected exhibitors such as Sega and Bandai-Namco, so it was always going to be good fun to have a look at new additions to the arcade scene. So what can you hope to see springing up in a location near you?

A theme of recent games is to get the player actively involved in the gaming experience. This isn’t just waving your arm around like a maniac in Wii games, but one only needs to look at such things as the upcoming Project Natal to see that literally active gaming is big business, and possibly the next step.

Star Ball

While it could be argued that the arcade scene has been doing this in some form for a while with games like DDR and so on, physical activity continues to be a theme. For example, Star Ball involves physically hurling rubber balls at targets on a screen in front of you, sensibly enclosed and far enough away to provide some kind of guarantee that the balls won’t rebound and hit you in the face. Star Ball instantly caught attention with its wacky mini games, one challenging you to throw balls at indecent streakers trying to offend the general public. The practicality of having such a machine in a large arcade presents a problem though, as the balls can rebound and go anywhere if thrown hard enough, and are generally easy to lose or be lost in the pockets of people taking one home as a souvenir.

Hopping Road happy ball balanceSome may be pleased to see that pogo stick simulator Hopping Road was showcased at the event. Muscle memory meant that I instinctively hopped on it; I’ll let you know when my legs stop hurting. On a less bouncy note, a game with a similar platform but with a tilting rather than bouncing mechanism was also at the show. Happy Balance Ball played like an oddly active version of Super Monkey Ball, although it didn’t help my already aching legs.

It seems that every year or so there is a revamp or a reworking of the classic Tetris. It is a classic for a reason but every new reincarnation promises a different twist. The laughingly huge Deka Controllers for Tetris Giant certainly caught attention at the show. What better way to reinvent an old classic than by giving it a huge joystick? The jokes basically write themselves, so I’ll leave that to you guys.

giant tetris

Unfortunately, if you were to put your pound in this machine and hope for a good time, you’d probably be disappointed. The controller, being a novel thing, was not actually any good for controlling like it was supposed to. Its size made it awkward and clunky to use, and the classic pull of Tetris is not enough to waste a precious coin when you would definitely have more fun playing good old Air Hockey on a Sonic themed table.

You have to give the Deka Con series some credit though for something a little different that will probably tempt people to pop in a pound. After all, let’s not forget that the arcades are out to make money but if they took my advice, they wouldn’t waste any on buying the Tetris Giant anyway. In any case, it’s good to see that the theme of ‘reinvention’ of classics is still very much alive, the most prominent one being Sega Racing Classic:

New and improved!
New and improved!

Although it has a new logo and new decals all over the cabinet, Sega Racing Classic is essentially Daytona USA with updated and more polished graphics. The tracks have that same sideways sweeping curve to them, the sky is perpetually blue and the bright yellow LINK PLAYER text still flashes obnoxiously. Playing it was, of course, exactly the same as the Daytona we all know and love. It was very refreshing to play it on a new cabinet rather than the Trocadero’s battered set with the broken pedals and screens tinted the wrong colour.

gogograndprix2 If you’re tired of arcade racers, roll your eyes at the sight of the Need for Speed version eleven-hundred-and-whatever machine and have a yearning for your childhood Scalextric days, then perhaps Go Go Grand Prix will be your type of game. Consisting of a large table with plastic cars on a track, it looked a lot like your childhood racing set. The cars were controlled by trigger-like controllers: pull the trigger to make the car go along straights, release the trigger to slow the car down going around corners. If you think that the game could be rather uncomplicated, then perhaps the car selection screen will make you think differently; each player could select a car based on stats such as acceleration and handling. It was more difficult than it looked, timing being crucial going around the corners even with such simple controls. A silly kiddy race suddenly turned into a much more serious affair, heated up by the cameras filming each player and putting them on screen as the race happened on the track. Every single person who went on this machine was skeptical, and yet as their race progressed became increasingly serious and stony faced, concentrating on pulling the trigger at just the right time to pull ahead.

gogograndprix1

By far the show-stealer was the creatively named Tank! Tank! Tank! It may come as a surprise to discover that the game involves tanks. Designed for four-way multiplayer, each player controls their own tank in the game. There are three modes: one involves all four players teaming up to complete various monster-destroying missions; another involves players pairing up to challenge each other and the third involves each player surviving on their own in a free-for-all death match.

Tank and go Boom!
Tank and go Boom!

Despite its macho tank-ness, the appearance of the game wasn’t brutal at all; being Bandai Namco you could expect a degree of cuteness and fun to be inserted into the proceedings. This comes in the form of a snapshot feature much like the one in Mario Kart arcade where the player positions themselves to make it look like they’re a traditional Lucky Cat, or wearing a space helmet, or even with lovely luscious long princess locks. If customisation doesn’t insert some hilarity into the proceedings (wait until you see your friend, wearing the pink “♥ tank!” helmet, blowing you to pieces) then the over-the-top weapons certainly will. During the versus battles especially, a mad scramble for items ensues and it comes down to whoever has the biggest missile wins. The machine also had wonderful motion to it, the kickback from your huge weapons really jerking you back in your seat and inducing a real sense of HUGE TANK into the game proceedings.

It is interesting to note that even though the arcade scene in the UK is rather sparse, such a show does exist and there are people milling around looking to buy these cabinets. However, maybe the key is that these are not necessarily seen as arcade-only machines. One large space-guzzler, the 4D theater, proudly advertised itself as being recently purchased by Bluewater shopping center. “Just what your space needs!” chirped the sign, giving you an indication as to the kind of place that some of these wonderful machines might end up in. Rather than being installed in a dedicated gaming center, we have all seen the odd DDR machine in a bowling alley, or a UFO catcher randomly placed in a shopping center, or a clunky version of Time Crisis 4 slipped in next to the popcorn stand at a cinema. Even though it is rather sad to consider it, maybe not a lot of these wonderful gems will be snapped up to be installed in a decent place for a decent length of time to be enjoyed. However, we can still hope that some of these novelty gems will find a home in a place local to us, ready to receive our shiny coins.

This is my arcade tank face.
This is my arcade tank face.

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