AOU is the yearly bash held just outside of Tokyo for arcade operators and arcade enthusiasts alike. The show fails to get much, if any, coverage in the West outside of details on new upgrades to already existing fighting games. In the UK we usually think of arcade machines as being cabinets housing videogames. However, we also tend to think of arcades as being dead. The reason there is still a lot of life in arcades in Japan may be down to the variety of machines available. The arcade scene in Japan caters for almost all demographics. Girls are drawn in by the purikura (print club) machines, which auto tune skin blemishes out and magnify eyes and eyelashes. Young couples hit up the UFO catchers (crane games) to try and win cute prizes for each other, then perhaps go on to play two-player games. Businessmen throw money away on virtual gambling and medal games whilst smoking themselves to death. Oh, and there are gamers too. They mainly stick to fighters and bullet hell shmups though.
As you might expect then, all of these kinds of machines grace the show’s floor. This year revisions and updates to older titles seemed all the rage, but there were still some new games on the scene worth mentioning.
Rhythm games are the biggest draw for many Japanese arcades, so it was perhaps unsurprising that SEGA’s flagship title this year was maimai – a game that sees two players competing against or working together with each other to get a high score by whacking the eight buttons around the circular screen at the right moments. VOCALOID tracks were present as well as a very peculiar dancing cat song. Sold. Playing the game netted some awesome official maimai gloves to play the game in local arcades without having to worry about where the previous player’s hands have been.
Away from the limelight were SEGA’s more “hardcore” titles. Gēsen Rabu (“Game Centre Love”, or “Arcade Love” if you so desire) is a 1-4 player pseudo-classic game made up of action and shmup sections. The action sections were the real draw with particularly tongue-in-cheek minigames ranging from Whac-A-Mole to ringing on a doorbell hundreds of times before running away. Under Night In-Birth is the spiritual successor to indie game gone professional Melty Blood. It’s very sharp and fluid in its style and animation, but the only reason it really stood out for me was that it was the first time I beat a Japanese player at a fighting game.
The oddest game on the show floor was predominantly playable just off the show floor. In the bathrooms. That’s right. Are you a man (or SheWee equipped lady with access to a urinal) who has, on occasion, thought “Boy, I sure am peeing for a long time… surely I must have broken a record!” Well, ponder no longer as SEGA’s Toirettsu lets players not only measure their outflow but also play one of several minigames while doing so. The unit on the show floor used a water statue to demo the game, but I can personally confirm that the game works in its natural environment although stage fright can and will set in. 238ml is “excellent” in case you were wondering.
Konami’s arcade port of Dance Evolution drew in crowds of onlookers (or it could have just been the Konami dancing girls… who knows). With the 360 being miles behind the competition in Japan it was likely the first time many gamers had seen it in action. Their Bemani section proved as popular as ever, with mainstays Beatmania IIDX, Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania, jubeat and Reflec Beat as well as the fledgling title Sound Voltex, which is not unlike a complex version of Amplitude. When the doors opened on the public day diehard fans immediately ran over to try their hand at the newest songs that had been added to their favourite games.
Bandai Namco as they’re known in Japan (or “Bamco” as I’m sure we all know them) only had one game worth mentioning in particular – Dark Escape 3D. Branding itself as using 3D, surround sound, air, rumbling seats and a heart rate monitor the game tries to absorb you into its world every which way it can. The first stage sees you following a young lady through a prison being attacked by marauding zombies. I’m not easily scared, but the big screen, close range gameplay alongside 3D and sudden loud noises make it hard to hide just how high your heart rate is getting. Also, there just aren’t enough games in the world that accurately simulate zombies vomiting on you. Bamco also had their own modern interpretation of air hockey entitled Big Bang Smash. Pretty much what you’d expect until dozens of pucks drop down onto the table at once. I can’t picture playing it again being half as fun as it was at AOU unless Bamco ladies are posted to arcades all around Japan to assume the role of yelping rivals.
The Prize Corner was as popular as ever with both old and new characters adorning every space available. These are all examples of the toys for UFO catchers that will be rolling out over the next year. Many of these characters are completely unknown, so allow me to share the best of the bunch with you. Nemuneko (sleeping cat) is an absolute favourite who’s been around for a couple of years now. I’m pretty sure anyone who doesn’t find his face cute has no soul. Gloomy Bear has also been around for some time now, even making a name for himself in the UK after appearing on Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama. This year he was proving himself cute in all manner of shapes despite his being covered in blood after having mauled his owner. Chibi Tora (little tiger) is a cute snow tiger cub that’s appeared out of nowhere; he’s quite difficult to track down in arcades. Daruhiyo are little chicks stylised after Daruma dolls that come in all sorts of colours. Mameshiba are little beans with Shiba Inu dog faces currently celebrating their 5th anniversary. And what better way to celebrate this than make a special plush modelled after Japanese electro-pop sensation Kyary Pamyu Pamyu? Finally Maruneko (round cats) were also dotted around the event, and even available to win on the first day thanks to some UFO catchers set to free play.
Prizes weren’t as plentiful as they are at events like Tokyo Game Show, but Taiko no Tatsujin (Taiko Drum Master) rulers were being given out for those who completed an environmental awareness questionnaire as well as a 10th Anniversary folder for playing the game itself. The public day also had its regular plush free-for-all with queues lasting all day, but the prizes weren’t as good as they had been in previous years. Plushes of the Pokémon Munna, Tympole and Minccino were the only videogame characters being given away. Free ice cream was given away at one point on the first day to promote an ice cream vending machine and crisps and sweets were the only items being restocked on the free play UFO catchers.
After the event it’s very hard to wind down from the arcade bug. I just had to head to the nearest SEGA arcade to try and win myself a black nemuneko and brown Gloomy Bear. Bagged nemuneko after around ¥2,000, but couldn’t nab the Gloomy Bear. I guess one can’t win ’em all…