Western Coin-Op is Missing Out: A Short Piece on the “Game Centre”

Arcade Crisis

If you’re into video games in any kind of measure then you have seen something like the above image. That is a rail shooter and one of the most famous ones to boot and while not all arcade machines are rail shooters I can guarantee that no matter what country you come from, you have seen something that looks like one of those.

Now allow me to take a moment to tell you a story of my childhood. A long long time ago, in a land far, far away known as London, there was an absolutely massive arcade known as Sega World.


Sega World was a 5 story heaven for fans of coin-operated games. It was a huge instalment in the London Trocadero where each floor was dedicated to its own genre of arcade game. You would enter in via a huge escalator that would take you all the way to the 5th floor which was for shooting games if I remember correctly. From there you would move down onto the other floors which had things like fighting games, sports games, prize games etc. On each floor there was some kind of themed attraction that for a small price you could ride, although I was so focused on playing shit like Fighting Vipers and Virtua Cop that I just ignored those.

I forget the date or year, I’m sure it’s on the internet somewhere, but one day Sega World went and shut down, an extremely sad time indeed. Although it didn’t die completely as it was rebranded to Fun Land and the popular machines (DDR, House of the Dead etc.) were all crammed into a space spanning only 2 floors. Then a couple of years after that, it died once again and now it’s been reduced to nothing more than air hockey in a basement.

So what was the point of that story?  The point I was trying to make is that coin-op gaming is this wonderful, exciting, varied activity that has just sort of died out in the west for a reason I don’t really understand. Although I think one thing that contributed to the death of western coin-op was the way people treat the machines.

Hurtin' Arcades

This is an image from a crappy little arcade I found in Stockholm. All the machines were in pretty bad condition and it was the kind of place where no matter what you played the equipment didn’t quite work properly. The lack of respect for machines in the west is, in my opinion, the reason that coin-op died. No one wants to drop money on a game that is basically unplayable because the machine doesn’t work.

So what makes Japan so different then? Well to put it in one word, everything.

Japanese Game Centres are crazy and it’s not just the most hard core turbonerds dropping 100 yen coins into these things, it’s pretty much EVERYBODY.

To be a bit more detailed there’s lots to enjoy about a Japanese Game Centre compared to that of a western arcade. The games are a hell of a lot more varied for starters. Of course you have your basic shooting, sports, rhythm games etc. but then there is all sorts of weird things to pique your interest and I’ll give you some examples in the form of YouTube links.

The above video is from a game called Sengoku Taisen, a real time strategy game with an absolutely massive cabinet that is played with trading cards. When you start out you have to buy a deck of cards, and then you place your small deck of cards on top of the cabinet and then pop up in the game as a unit of troops. You then move the cards around to move the troops while pressing buttons on the side of the machine in order to activate special abilities. It’s an extremely simple way to play an RTS game but with the absolutely staggering amount of cards to collect all with unique abilities, there is actually a really deep game here.

Example 2 is something a little more traditional:

This is Sound Voltex Booth, a rhythm game where you must not only push buttons in rhythm with the song playing, but also trace sound bars using two knobs on the side of the machine. It doesn’t sound too exciting at first but I really enjoy the soundtrack and its WAY harder than any of the crap rhythm games that came out of western developers.

Although another reason these games are so fun (rhythm games in particular) is something I like to call a Stat Card. These cards come in two common forms known as E-Amusement and Aime. You can scan them into the various games to keep track of how well (or badly) you are doing and best of all, unlock new stuff within the games.

So with the variety and innovation of games available, the motivation to come back in the form of stat cards and (most importantly) a respect for the equipment is what keeps the Japanese Game Centre scene so alive and vibrant, and it’s a shame we can’t share these experiences in the west.  Me talking about it in an article can’t really do it justice but if you want to do some further research on your own you should start by checking out some games like Code of Joker or MaiMai, I’m sure from there you’ll open the flood gates into articles about all sorts of stuff.

So yeah, long story short, if you like coin-op, book a holiday to Japan because you aren’t going to get these games anywhere else. I’ve covered some titles myself so feel free to trawl my blog looking for the articles.

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